Natik volunteer Patrick Rodgers explains why quality education is so scarce–and so vital–in Guatemala.
Access to education for indigenous communities in Guatemala has historically been low. This is a problem for a country that has twenty-three indigenous groups that make up 43% of the population.
The policy changes of the 1990’s greatly increased access.
The racially-charged Guatemalan civil wars restricted people, especially indigenous groups, from pursuing education, but a shift did take place when the wars ended. Guatemala’s Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) implemented educational policies in 1995 stressing indigenous equality, and in 1996 an agreement was made securing the identity and educational rights of the indigenous population.
As a result, MINEDUC started individualized community projects, especially in rural areas, with the National Program for Educational Development (PRONADE). The projects provided an alternative educational setting for rural children living more than three kilometers away from the nearest school. They are common today, and require a minimum of twenty-five students as well as fifteen community members participating in the school’s decision making.
Due to programs like PRONADE, between 1996 and 2006, the percent of students who have received some formal education has increased from less 70% to about 95%.
But problems with quality, financing, and parental involvement persist.
The education policies of the 1990’s helped, but they did not bring about significant educational advances. Some criticize the changes–which include community based school management programs, the implementation of bilingual education, and mixed grade classes–as “supply-side” interventions only. Such interventions are controversial because research indicates that they are helpful to a point, but that traditional schools enable students to achieve higher and more consistent scores in testing.
In practice, many children are now attending school, but there are still many problems in quality. For example, children often start late, miss their first year, and ultimately do not grasp sufficient learning to pass to the next grade. In addition, many children drop out due to financial cost. The drop-out rate is highest in 1st grade at 8.8%.
The lack of educational quality in rural countries may also have to do with the generational divide. As one study reports, Guatemalan parents are usually very supportive of their children attending school, but they often lack the training and experience necessary to participate effectively. Many Guatemalan parents did not receive an education because of high costs, the civil war, or the necessity to work, thus it is hard for them to support their children, e.g. by helping with homework.
Parental disengagement especially impacts programs like PRONADE because communal and parental involvement is required. New initiatives targeting the parents need to be considered by MINDUC. Simply explaining the financial benefits of having an education to parents could help markedly.
We must look forward to more change.
Ultimately, it is important to remember that education matters. Some studies indicate rural workers’ wages go up 30% with a primary school education, and they continue to rise 50% with a secondary education .
The Guatemalan government has been very successful at bringing education to more of its citizens, and its education system is continuing to improve. In the years 2006-2007, Guatemala’s Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) implemented new educational competencies for primary education, and the following year for secondary education.
Nevertheless, high drop-out rates in primary school continue. To date, more than 70% of the Guatemalan population have an average of a mere three years of schooling. Finding the balance between the quality of traditional schooling and scalability of rural programs like PRONADE is essential. To me it seems like the combination of programs–that improve education delivery and develop parental involvement–would go a long way in improving education and effecting social change.
1. Asturias de Barrios, L., & Mérida Arellano, V. (2007). The Process of Developing a New Curriculum for Lower Secondary Education in Guatemala. Prospects: Quarterly Review of Comparative Education, 37(2), 249-266. Retrieved April 24, 2015, from ERIC.
2. Ishihara-Brito, R. (2013). Educational access is educational quality: Indigenous parents’ perception of schooling in rural guatemala. Prospects, 43 (2), 187-197. Retrieved April 24, 2015, from EBSCO Host.
3. Vásquez, W. (2012). Supply-side interventions and student learning in Guatemala. International Review of Education Review, 58(1), 9-33. Retrieved from EBSCO Host.