Primary schools in Guatemala’s Western Highlands are learning the classroom doesn’t always have to be confined to four walls or by-the-book lesson plans. To improve reading and writing skills among students and to help foster a love of learning, Project Concern International (PCI) introduced local teachers to the concept of literacy camps.
The outdoor educational retreats take place during the school day, in open spaces like soccer fields, to give students the opportunity to learn through play. Participants rotate through stations where they work together to construct sentences and stories, play word games, put together puzzles, act out dramas and ultimately engage with literacy.
“We are enthusiastic about this activity and hope it will be an example to improve the reading habits in our families, especially in the children,” said Leticia Gomez, a teacher at the Yerba Buena Alta School in Cuilco.
To date, literacy camps have been carried out with first- through sixth-graders in 103 schools in six municipalities in Huehuetenango.
Students who attend the camps generally come from communities plagued by poverty, chronic malnutrition and poor education outcomes. According to Ministry of Education data, only 50% of primary students in Guatemala reach national standards in reading. Parents are invited to participate in the literacy camps so they can learn how to support their children’s education at home. By holding the camps at central locations in the community and using books and educational materials that incorporate local Mayan languages, the schools are helping to eliminate potential barriers to parental involvement.
“I laughed a lot and for the first time I am seeing my son’s education,” said Josefina Mateo Pedro, a mother who participated in a literacy camp at Cerro Maltín in Santa Eulalia. “My parents weren’t able to send me to school, and I am very happy to see how they are teaching children now. … This motivates us as parents to support the teachers by ensuring that our children read at home and thus learn even more.”
Local teachers have also expressed excitement about learning new techniques that have boosted the quality of their lessons and led to better social interactions, more participation and cooperation among students.
“I like the reading games,” said Juan Bartólon, a sixth grader at the Santa Rosa School in Cuilco. “It is a different experience and fun.”
The literacy camps are part of a broader set of activities designed and implemented by PCI Guatemala through EDUCAMOS, a McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Partners include the Ministry of Education and Juárez & Associates.
The goal is to increase the frequency of the camps to four times a year and to reach 270 schools over the course of the program. PCI is working to build the capacity of local volunteers to help teachers and other school officials continue to run the camps once PCI’s involvement ends.
To learn more and see part of the literacy camps in action, watch this video produced by staff members from PCI Guatemala in Spanish.
Gesler Castillo, Amy Hansen, Edy Lopez, Amy Ostrander, Nery Sosa and Hernan Thaine contributed to this story.