Debutant INGO’s Participating in Guatemala’s National Reading Program – Jacob Carter

The Setting

Guatemala is a multiethnic country where over 24 indigenous languages (Maya, Xinca and Garifuna) are spoken along with Spanish. Central  to  understanding the dynamics of NGOs working in Guatemala is their historical relationship to the State, which has ranged from collaborative to homicidal. Mid-century democratic governments stimulated the growth of NGOs but during the 36-year civil war (1960 –1996), NGOs were often targeted by the State because of their activist work and their engagement with opposition forces.


More recently and particularly since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, neoliberal policy reforms have used NGOs as primary vehicles for the provision of social services especially in the health and education sectors. Estimates place the total number of NGOs in Guatemala upwards of 10,000 and increasing. Of these there are more than 70 International NGOs (INGOs) working in the education sector serving up to 5% of the children in school. 


Previous studies have focused on NGOs associated with the National Program for Community-Managed Schools for Educational Development (PRONADE) that had contracts with the State to develop new rural schools. PRONADE was terminated in 2008, but its model of NGO involvement has changed the nature of NGO work in the education sector. Presently, some INGOs are formally participating in the state-sponsored National Reading Program – Leamos Juntos (Lets Read Together) - but many other INGOs are working in the education sector and do not have formal arrangements with the State.


Reading Programs in Guatemala


The Research 

The primary research question driving this study is “how are international NGOs participating in Leamos Juntos and what factors serve to stimulate or complicate their participation.” The study examines how the policy framework, geographic location within Guatemala, the historical context of State-NGO relations, and the regional context, influence participation of smaller INGOs in the education sector – organizations that the author has labeled debutant INGOs. These INGOs are distinct from other NGOs in that the State has exerted limited influence over them, they are minimally beholden to the international development project funding cycles, and have not been subjected to the intense State antagonism towards NGOs.


This study employs a Force-Field Analysis as an analytical tool in combination with a literature review. Data was collected from 60 institutions and more than 100 individual stakeholders from across the education sector, including staff of INGOs, public education, bi- and multi-lateral agencies, universities, think tanks and consultants. The Force-Field Analysis both frames the research questions and provides a tool to analyze the data and summarize the results.


Preliminary Findings

Ongoing data analysis suggest that there are four possible strategies to reduce barriers and stimulate INGO participation. First, information must be more easily accessible given that there is no nationwide mapping of INGOs nor a collection of all the learning resources that are available. Second, at the central level there should be a clear communication plan that is operationalized with INGOs of all sizes. Third, Leamos Juntos should continue to base their programs on a well-defined and structured design but should include additional guidance on how INGOs can participate. Fourth, Leamos Juntos and INGOs should continue to place a focus on bilingual and intercultural education particularly as it relates to the use of indigenous languages in reading programming; learning resources should also be developed for all of the national languages and made easily available.


INGOs can play an important role in promoting reading in Guatemala, but the unique dynamics between the Ministry of Education and the INGOs require additional planning and coordination.


The Author

Jacob Carter has 15 years of experience working in Guatemala, including a 10-month Fulbright-Clinton fellowship where he worked with the technical team managing Leamos Juntos and collected the data for this study. This research is part of his doctoral dissertation research which is ongoing. [5/19]