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At a glance: Guatemala

Early education makes learning fun for indigenous children in Guatemala

© UNICEF Guatemala/2007/Prieto
Early education centres in Guatemala’s indigenous areas are thriving because of community support and innovative educational techniques.

By Maite Garmendia

QUICHE, Guatemala, 1 October 2007 – The classroom in the nursery school at Salquil Grande, one of 20 such schools located in the Ixil indigenous area of Quiché, is warmly decorated with bright colours, plenty of toys, drawings and bilingual posters in both the Ixil and Spanish languages. More important, it is filled with smiling children.

Approximately 70 children from three to six years of age attend this school, which is coordinated by the Association of Promoters of Bilingual Mayan-Ixil Education (APEDIBIMI), a non-governmental organization that promotes and defends the Mayan-Ixil culture.

When children come to school, each chooses one of three ‘corners’ identified in the classroom: language and communication; logical thinking; or artistic expression. After spending some time in these corners, they gather around for a ‘dialogue in chorus’ to openly express themselves.

Today, a young boy named Juan is speaking in Spanish about the things he did the previous afternoon. His classmate Álvaro also shares a story, this time in Ixil.

© UNICEF Guatemala/2007/Prieto
With the use of games and bilingual play, many indigenous children in Guatemala now see learning as fun and not a chore.

Parent and community involvement

Children at the school are put into two groups when it is time to learn – with three and four year olds on one side and five and six year olds on the other.

Accompanied by a teacher, the younger children play ball outside the classroom while the older ones learn to separate their names into syllables while they play a jumping game.

Magdalena Pérez , Alvaro’s teacher, and Catarina Bernal, his mother, say the children are eager to attend and the activities run smoothly because the teachers are selected from the community; the education is bilingual to mitigate the difficulty, for indigenous children, of having to learn only in Spanish; and the parents are directly involved in the educational process.

“At home, we go over what the children have learned in the classroom and also collaborate as parents, making toys or preparing school snacks,” says Ms. Bernal.

The joy of education 

The APEDIBIMI methodology is not just for children from three to six years old. In other communities, the programme trains mothers of children under three on the importance of early education, stimulation and health care.

The idea is to optimize early education through the joint efforts of various actors, including APEDIBIMI, the Guatemalan Ministry of Education and the communities themselves. UNICEF also plays an important part by implementing workshops to keep teachers updated, training mothers in early education and delivering support materials.

The joint effort has been a resounding success. Now, many more young children in Guatemala’s Ixil community – like the Salquil Grande school’s smiling charges – see learning as a joy, not a chore.



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