Students from the Bajo Lempa area
I think we have learned a great deal about education over the last two years. The schools are understaffed and underfunded. The previous ARENA government ignored the schools for twenty years. The attention is only turning to the education of children now with the election of the Funes government. On both trips, participants spent a good amount of time talking with students, teachers and administrators about the challenges they face every day.
The list of difficulties is long, but it leads to many ideas on how we can contribute in a meaningful way. Here are a few examples gleaned from discussions with teachers this year. Most teachers work two shifts a day – up to ten hours – in order to make ends meet. The building and unkeep of the schools is the responsibility of the teachers and the surrounding community. If you need new lights, the teachers provide this, if you need furniture, the school turns to the community, if you need to build a school, you build it. Traditionally, no help comes from the government. On a professional level, teachers yearn to learn more about advanced teaching methods but there is no provision for releasing them from their weekly duties. Any professional learning would have to take place on the weekend. This is not practical given their working conditions. In fact, there is no school specifically designed to train teachers in El Salvador.
Children can travel up to two hours to reach school and many come to school hungry. There are few resources to assist students with learning difficulties. Often these students leave school to find jobs selling items on the streets.
Wall painting in San Jose Las Flores
depicting the first schools in the area
Many students are pulled from school to help their parents with farming or fishing chores. While many of the students we spoke with aspire to achieve great things, access to high school and especially university is limited. The state of education is in very poor shape, but we should remember that twenty years ago, there were no teachers and few schools. Students were taught by teachers with only slightly more education than their students under the trees. In some cases, schools were strafed by government planes.