Reading & Literacy

Foreign Exchange

June 06, 2001 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Guatemala is turning to its young people to help erase adult illiteracy there.

The culturally diverse Central American country last fall began requiring high school students to search out and teach adults who cannot read or write.

The Guatemalan education ministry estimates that some 55,000 students have signed up for the program, along with about 400,000 adults.

Initially, in order to graduate, students had to spend 200 or more hours over six months teaching at least five adults the basics of reading and writing. When some schools balked at the load, education officials backed off, and now let students teach fewer adults and for less time.

Still, the goal of the program is to cut the nation’s 45 percent illiteracy rate in half by 2004.

One of the challenges is overcoming language barriers. Spanish is the major tongue in Guatemala, a country of about 12 million people, but more than 20 dialects of indigenous languages are spoken—and are often the primary languages in rural areas.

Though most people seem to agree that the literacy program is well intentioned, it has its critics.

Some private schools have sued—unsuccessfully—over the government’s right to force them to comply.

Other private schools are making the best of the situation.

Barbara Barillas, the director of the American School of Guatemala, said the 100 seniors in her school in Guatemala City are participating, but had some difficulty finding adults to commit to classes.

On discovering the students were required to come up with adults to teach, some adults tried to charge the youngsters, she said.

While many hurdles have had to be overcome, such as teaching students how to teach, the program is starting to pay off, at least for students.

“In many ways, it sensitizes students to realities they’ve not confronted before,” she said. “But just how successful the program is [at teaching literacy] is not clear.”

—Robert C. Johnston

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 06, 2001 edition of Education Week as Foreign Exchange

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Nation's Second-Largest School System Plans to 'Embrace' the Science of Reading
Los Angeles Superintendent Alberto Carvalho's remarks also echo New York leaders' promises to support an early-reading overhaul.
3 min read
Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest school district, comments on an external cyberattack on the LAUSD information systems during the Labor Day weekend, at a news conference in Los Angeles Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. Despite the ransomware attack, schools in the nation's second-largest district opened as usual Tuesday morning.
Alberto Carvalho, who leads the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest school district, speaks at a news conference in Los Angeles on Sept. 6, 2022.
Damian Dovarganes/AP
Reading & Literacy As Revised Lucy Calkins Curriculum Launches, Educators Debate If Changes Are Sufficient
Researchers and educators who have reviewed excerpts offer mixed reviews on their potential to shift classroom instruction.
8 min read
Letters and a magnifying glass.
busracavus/iStock/Getty