Education Reform: Accord for a Firm and Lasting Peace

Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Mexico City, 31 March 1995)

III. Cultural Rights: G. Education reform

1. The educational system is one of the most important vehicles for the transmittal and development of cultural values and knowledge. It must be responsive to the cultural and linguistic diversity of Guatemala, recognizing and strengthening the cultural identity of indigenous peoples, the values and educational systems of the Maya and other indigenous peoples, and the need to afford access to formal and non-formal education and to include the educational concepts of indigenous peoples in national school curricula.

2. To this end, the Government undertakes to promote the following reforms in the educational system:

(a) Decentralize and regionalize the system in order to adapt it to linguistic and cultural needs and specific features;

(b) Give communities and families, which are a source of education, an active role in determining curricula and the school calendar and the authority to recommend the appointment or removal of teachers in order better to serve the educational and cultural interests of communities;

(c) Incorporate the educational concepts of the Maya and other indigenous peoples, particularly in the philosophical, scientific, artistic, pedagogical, historical, linguistic and socio-political areas, as part of the overall reform of the educational system;

(d) Expand and promote intercultural bilingual education and place emphasis on the study and knowledge of indigenous languages at all educational levels;

(e) Promote improvements in the socio-economic living conditions of communities by developing the values, content and methods of their culture, technological innovations and the ethical principle of protection of the environment;

(f) Include in educational syllabuses programmes that strengthen national unity through respect for cultural diversity;

(g) Recruit and train indigenous bilingual teachers and technical and administrative officials to develop education in their communities and to introduce mechanisms to permit consultation with and the participation of representatives of indigenous communities and organizations in the educational process;

(h) Pursue the effective realization of the constitutional right to education to which the entire population is entitled, especially in indigenous communities which exhibit the lowest levels of educational coverage, by expanding such coverage and taking steps to ensure the achievement of these objectives; and

(i) Increase the budget of the Ministry of Education, so that a substantial part of this increase can be allocated to the implementation of educational reform.

3. As part of the educational reform, full account shall be taken of the different Mayan educational experiences. The Mayan Schools shall continue to be encouraged and the National Programme of Intercultural Bilingual Education for indigenous peoples and the Mayan Culture and Language Component for the entire school population of Guatemala shall be consolidated. The establishment of a Mayan university or indigenous institutions of higher learning and the operation of the National Council of Mayan Education shall also be promoted.

4. In order to facilitate access by indigenous people to formal and non-formal education, the system of scholarships and student grants shall be strengthened. Teaching materials containing cultural and gender stereotypes shall also be revised.

5. A joint commission comprised of representatives of the Government and of indigenous organizations shall be established to design the above-mentioned reform.

Agreement on Social and Economic Aspects and Agrarian Situation (Mexico City, 6 May 1996)

II. Social Development: A. Education and training

21. Education and training have a fundamental role in the country’s economic, cultural, social and political development. They are central to the strategy of equity and national unity, and vital for economic modernization and international competitiveness. Reform of the educational system and of its administration is therefore necessary, as is the implementation of coherent and forceful State policies in the field of education, in order to achieve the following objectives:

(a) To affirm and disseminate the moral and cultural values and the concepts and behaviour patterns which are the foundations of democratic coexistence, including respect for human rights, for the cultural diversity of Guatemala, for the productive work of its people and the protection of the environment and for the values and mechanisms of power-sharing and social and political consensus-building which constitute the basis of a culture of peace;

(b) To avoid the perpetuation of poverty and of social, ethnic, sexual and geographical forms of discrimination, particularly those which arise from the divide between urban and rural society;

(c) To contribute to the application of technical and scientific progress and, consequently, to the achievement of higher productivity, the creation of more jobs and increased income for the population, and beneficial integration into the world economy.

22. In response to the country's needs in the field of education, the Government undertakes to:

Spending on education

(a) Implement significant increases in the resources allocated to education. By the year 2000, the Government proposes to step up public spending on education as a proportion of gross domestic product by at least 50 per cent over its 1995 level. These targets will be revised upwards in the light of future developments in State finances;

Adjustment of educational curricula

(b) Adjust educational curricula in accordance with the objectives set out in paragraph 21. These adjustments will take into account the conclusions of the Education Reform Commission established by the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples;


(c) Expand, as a matter of urgency, the coverage of education services at all levels, and in particular the provision of bilingual education in rural communities, by means of:

(i) The integration of children of school age into the educational system, ensuring that they complete the pre-primary and primary levels and the first level of secondary school; in particular, by the year 2000, the Government undertakes to provide access, for all those between ages 7 and 12, to at least three years of schooling;

(ii) Literacy programmes in as many languages as is technically feasible, with the participation of suitably qualified indigenous organizations; the Government undertakes to raise the literacy rate to 70 per cent by the year 2000; and

(iii) Education, training and technical courses for adults;

Occupational training

(d) Develop, with appropriate and efficient methodology, training programmes in communities and enterprises for the retraining and technical updating of workers, with emphasis on the inhabitants of isolated areas and rural communities, with support from those sectors which are able to collaborate in this undertaking;

Training for participation

(e) Provide training to enable social organizations at the municipal, regional and national levels to take part in socio-economic development, including the fields of public administration, fiscal responsibility and consensus-building;

Civic education programme

(f) Design and implement a national civic education programme for democracy and peace, promoting the protection of human rights, the renewal of political culture and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. The mass media will be invited to participate in this programme;

Community-school interaction and community participation

(g) In order to encourage the enrollment of children in the educational system and to lower the school drop-out rate, the Government undertakes to encourage effective community and parental participation in the various aspects of the education and training services (curricula, appointment of teachers, school calendar, etc.);

Financial support

(h) Develop scholarship and student grant programmes, economic support and other incentives, to enable needy students to continue their education; Training of school administrators

(i) Develop continuing education programmes for teachers and school administrators;

Advisory commission

(j) For the purpose of designing and implementing the educational reform to be carried out by the Ministry of Education, an advisory commission attached to the Ministry will be set up, consisting of participants in the educational process, including representatives of the Education Reform Commission set up pursuant to the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples;

Higher education and research

(k) State-run higher education, the management, organization and development of which is the sole responsibility of the Guatemalan University of San Carlos, is a key factor in achieving economic growth, social equity, the dissemination of culture and a greater pool of technological know-how. The Government of the Republic undertakes to provide to the University of San Carlos, in a timely manner, the funding which is its prerogative under a constitutional mandate. With all due respect to the autonomy of the University, the parties urge the authorities of that distinguished institution to give favourable consideration to all initiatives which increase its contribution to the country’s development and help to consolidate peace. The Government undertakes to heed such contributions and initiatives and to respond appropriately. Particular importance is attached to the development of the University's regional centres and of its internship programmes, especially in the poorest sectors. The Parties also urge the business sector to devote increased efforts to applied technological research and to human resources development, forging closer exchange links with the University of San Carlos;

Educational outreach workers

(l) Pursuant to the Agreement on Resettlement of the Population Groups Uprooted by the Armed Conflict and the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, community educational outreach workers shall be incorporated into the national education system, and due regard shall be given to suitable curricula for indigenous communities and uprooted population groups.

Implementation History


Intermediate Implementation

The Government submitted the National Civic Education Program for Democracy and Peace, which incorporates commitments to education reform in the Agreement on Social and Economic Aspects and the Agrarian Situation, and is to be implemented by the Ministry of Education.1

The Government also established the Advisory Commission on Educational Reform, which included representatives from indigenous communities. Nearly 50,000 scholarships and study grants were provided to needy students. The civic education program moved from the planning phase to the implementation phase.2

  • 1. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/51/936), June 30, 1997.
  • 2. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/52/757), February 4, 1998.

Intermediate Implementation

The National Program for Educational Self-Management (PRONADE) raised primary education coverage to 60% of the target set by the Agreements for the year 2000. The programs included little bilingual or intercultural education, even though the areas covered were mostly indigenous communities. The Department of Bilingual Education (DIGEBI) works with PRONADE, but only covers 15% of schools, and even those schools are only partially covered.3 Illiteracy was reduced from 37% in 1995 to 31.7% in 1998.4

  • 3. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/53/421), September 28, 1998.
  • 4. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/54/526), November 11, 1999.

Intermediate Implementation

The Advisory Commission on Educational Reform facilitated discussion and worked toward consensus on broad educational reform. Whatever actual improvements occurred were relatively small and too slow to meet the benchmarks stipulated in the Agreements. The education system was not growing fast enough to meet the goal of access to at least three years of schooling for all children between the ages of 7 and 12, and there was a shortage of teachers. PRONADE did not improve bilingual coverage. The civic education program was poorly resourced and waning. All deficiencies in the Government's responsibilities for education were worst in rural areas and among indigenous populations.5


Intermediate Implementation

Budget cuts eliminated funding for the out-of-school education program and training for school faculty and staff. No progress was made on the civic education program, which remained unfunded, and primary education coverage was too limited to meet the target set for it. On the other hand, the Ministry of Education announced new plans for 2000-2004, which included initiatives to reduce the illiteracy rate by 15% and experimental programs to teach Mayan languages and Spanish simultaneously.6

  • 6. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/55/175), July 26, 2000; “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/55/973), June 1, 2001.

Intermediate Implementation

A curriculum was approved for pre-primary education, but no such curriculum was completed for other levels. The benchmark of full access to at least three years education for children between 7 and 12 years of age was not met. The education budget was cut further for 2001 and 2002, failing to live up to the expectations set forth in the Agreements.7

As of September 2001, the Ministry of Education had so far failed to implement comprehensive intercultural and bilingual education programs or improve indigenous communities' access to education at the levels stipulated by the agreements.8

  • 7. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/55/1003), July 10, 2002.
  • 8. “The Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala: Overcoming Discrimination in the Framework of the Peace Agreements, Verification Report," United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), September 2001.

Intermediate Implementation

While there was an increase in the budget for the Ministry of Education, actual spending on education was insufficient to increase coverage, improve infrastructure and implement all the reforms stipulated by the Agreements. One notable improvement was the opening of training institutes for bilingual teachers.9

Legislative Degree No. 81-2002 established the Education against Discrimination Act.10 Government Agreement No. 526-2003 established the Vice-Ministry for Bilingual Intercultural Education.

  • 9. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/58/267), August 11, 2003.
  • 10. “Information Received from Governments: Guatemala,” United Nations Economic and Social Council, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (E/C.19/2010/12/Add.8), March 3, 2010.

Intermediate Implementation

The teachers went on strike in early 2003. No proposals for long-term solutions were given.11

The rate of illiteracy was lowered to 30% as stipulated by the Peace Agreements. Bilingual and multicultural education programs, however, fell short of the goals set in the Agreements.12 Government Agreement No. 526-2003 established the Vice-Ministry for Bilingual Intercultural Education, and Ministerial Agreement No. 930-2003 of the Ministry of Education set out to respect indigenous dress in official and private establishments.13

  • 11. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/58/267), August 11, 2003.
  • 12. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/59/307), August 30, 2004.
  • 13. “Information Received from Governments: Guatemala,” United Nations Economic and Social Council, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (E/C.19/2010/12/Add.8), March 3, 2010.

Intermediate Implementation

Government Agreement No. 22-2004 expanded bilingual education and multiculturalism in the education system.14


Intermediate Implementation

No developments observed this year.


Intermediate Implementation

No new developments reported in 2006. Nevertheless, the government continued its effort to bring down illiteracy rate. This led to the establishment of  institutional mechanisms to promote and expand bilingual education and multiculturalism suggest that the provisions related to education were implemented to some extent. However, according to the State Department Human Rights Report, more than 50 percent of indigenous women were illiterate and a disproportionate number of indigenous girls did not attend school. The report, quoting the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, states that 78,692 preschool- and kindergarten-age indigenous children were enrolled in Spanish-indigenous language bilingual education programs.15