Education is one of the keys to getting out of the cycle of poverty, through education people are able to think, argue, adapt and succeed. It is a fact that a single year of primary school increases a kid’s future earning potential by 5 to 15% and a girl’s even more.
Nicaragua is currently known as being one of the poorest countries in Latin America, the second poorest after Haiti, and its education system is not helping. The country suffered a lot in the last 30 years: revolutions, civil wars, natural disasters and presidents who are more interested in the money than the education. The only way that Nicaragua can help itself is educating their population.
In a country where 65% of the population is younger than 25 according to the UNESCO, attending school means more than half of the population is not working. Poverty requires at home or work, parents can´t afford to have their kids at school because they are more useful cooking, babysitting sibling, selling on the street or helping at work. Unfortunately, many parents do not prize education because they didn´t get one as a child. In this way, the cycle of poverty can´t be broken.
However, there are young people in the country who are aware of the problem and are demanding a better education. Besides, all the efforts Nicaragua is still a country to a largely uneducated society. I´m not an expert not a professional analyst, but after living in Nicaragua and working mainly with childhood organization, I could observe some of the things that are not working.
“Free” education for all
Nicaraguan government prides itself on having free and compulsory schooling. But analyzing the current situation that’s far from the reality.
It is true that government pays for salaries and training, and they even fix maintenance problems from time to time. But the ugly true is that most parents can´t afford education, they have to come up with the money for the school equipment and supplies, books, additional salaries, uniforms and even cleaning products (and the kids are usually the ones cleaning the facilities).
When a child starts the school year, the school provides a big list of things that they have to purchase in order to attend school, from markers to toilet paper. When the average woman in Nicaragua has five children, this is even higher on the Atlantic coast, these fees mean that their children cannot go to school. Families find it hard to spend their low incomes in all these school things when they have difficulty jus affording food.
The “mandatory” school is also hard when compulsory means only until 12 years old, meaning that secondary education is not really a requisite. Also, Nicaraguan law allows children to start working at 14, among the youngest in the region. When you family is struggling every day and having financial difficulties, an easy solution is start working (whatever that job is!).
Most schools lack basic things like chairs, supplies or even roofs, so finding money for sports equipment, musical instruments, or computers are outside the equation. With this picture, Nicaragua schools are only able to offer basic education.
After school programs are nonexistent in Nicaragua and children usually have more than half of the day free, usually without no one who help them or encourage them to study. Without affordable, after-school opportunities, many kids end up spending their free time on the street, without programming or adult supervision.
One teacher for all
If we focus on rural communities the system is even worst. Many children have to walk 1 or 2 hours to get to their school, which probably it only offer some years of schooling. Attending secondary education or university means moving outside the community and living in the city, can you see the problem here? The consequence is three-quarters of the rural population is illiterate.
Another problem on rural communities is finding teachers for the schools. Their solution is having a small staff of teachers for several grades. That means that children of different ages and grades share a classroom where only one professor is in charge of teaching them all. The lack of attention and focus is definitely gigantic.
Distract with the unimportant
The amount of days off and national holidays are insane. Children can spend weeks preparing for celebrations, during these weeks classes are suspended and kids focus on doing placards, decoration and rehearsing for activities.
Under the Sandinistas, education was a political symbol and a major priority was shifting attitudes and creating national unity. These feelings are still teach in the schools, kids can spend a whole day marching or learning the Nicaraguan anthem.
As is the case in other Central American countries, Nicaraguan children attend school in shifts. Children typically attend school in either the morning or afternoon. And some children only go to school on Saturdays (saturnine).
The ones attending school on Saturdays spend the rest of the week working to help their family income. You could think a number of school hours are much lower than attending the school during the week, and you are completely right. But that doesn’t mean that these kids need more years for their education, just the same amount of time for weekly school.
How is that possible? It’s been said that they have more homework during the week, but they usually don’t have time because they are working. So honestly I don’t know! Most luckily, attending school only on Saturdays suggest a poorest education.
A lack of education not only discourage a child’s future, but also the chances of their children. Missing an effort in this generation also fails the next. The bright side is that there are organizations, teachers, parents and communities pushing for changes and making a difference for their kids.
Increasing access to education and quality content for all Nicaraguan children is essential to helping free them from the destructive cycle of poverty they were born into.
If you want to read more about education, I recommend these links:
- La Isla Foundation – Cycle of Sickness
- UNESCO – General Overview: Latin American and the Caribbean
- Fsd Foundation – Youth Education & Development Issues in Nicaragua