Colombian corporate social responsibility programme wins UNESCO Literacy Prize


Camacol Antioquia in Colombia is awarded the 2019 UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy for its literacy programme ‘Obras Escuela’.

The Antioquia regional branch of the non-profit consortium Camacol, which is composed of more than 400 active companies in the construction sector, launched ‘Obras Escuela’ in 2007, with the aim to promote literacy for workers in this sector.

This workplace-based learning programme is flexible to meet worker’s needs and has improved basic literacy and arithmetic skills of construction workers who had limited or no schooling.

“Construction workers faced daily difficulties due to a lack of literacy,” says María Lucía Vélez, the Director of corporate social responsibility at Camacol Antioquia. She explains that those difficulties are associated with the insufficient ablility to read the bus route correctly or access the subway, to filling out official paperwork and reading safety signs.

Teachers who have professional education degrees provide literacy courses at the beginning and at the end of the day. They cover a wide range of subjects whose content is aligned with the basic learning models proposed by the Ministry of National Education.

The programme has adopted Spanish, the native language of the participants, but also teaches English through different subjects. The courses are also focused on other aspects of the learners’ lives such as human rights and filling out applications for State subsidies or making medical appointments.

Building self-esteem and limiting accidents at work

‘Obras Escuela’ has improved social and working conditions as demonstrated by lower accident rates, and it has empowered learners by increasing their self-esteem. Camacol insists on the importance to empowering learners and to bring a space of learning to the various groups of people that are represented in the construction sector.   

“It is common to find different population groups such as indigenous people, former rural populations, victims of violence, displaced persons, and ex-combatants among others, that are looking for employment opportunities with us,” says María Lucía Vélez.

Building on their achievement, in 2017 Camacol extended the programme to families of the workers through partnerships with educational institutions in the city. Over 3,000 people have benefited from the programme so far.

Successful learners have obtained certificates endorsed by the Ministry of Education of Medellín. Participants are highly encouraged to pursue further education if they wish; Camacol Antioquia leads a Baccalaureate programme that promotes technical and technological skills of workers.

Expressing gratitude to the teachers and participating companies in Antioquia and Colombia “that believe in education as a fundamental tool for development and social transformation”, a Camacol representative recalls the importance of investing in literacy in developing countries and believes in the possibility “to achieve an exceptional change in a very short time”.

This year’s UNESCO International Literacy Prizes will be awarded to laureates from Algeria, Colombia, Indonesia, Italy and Senegal on the occasion of International Literacy Day. The Prize Award Ceremony will take place during the global event for International Literacy Day on 9 September at UNESCO Headquarters. This year’s International Literacy Prizes and global event are organized around the theme of ‘literacy and multilingualism’.

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