Priority for Education in El Salvador (or lack thereof)   2 comments

It was a morning of indecision, centered around when to go to church, for which service and why. The neighbors and I agreed yesterday to go in the morning, but then we learned kids were getting confirmed in a special afternoon service. My niece Carmen had her heart set on the AM mass (methinks she made plans with the boyfriend to meet up there).

Our neighbor Laura came by and asked if I planned to go to the morning or afternoon service.
Carmen and I wanted to go in the morning.  “OK, yeah, well, err..” says Laura (in Spanish words), “You see, Heidi (her sister) is busy right now, because…” After a few turns in the conversation, I learned my neighbors not so devout issue was: they didn’t want to go twice today.

If Heidi goes in the morning the priest will ask (really, remind her) if she plans to come to the  “confirmation” service. She will be obliged to go because she has a special relationship with the church

So we all decided on the afternoon to see the neighborhood youth get confirmed, more special anyway.

Heidi’s relationship with the church is special and rather extraordinary. Heidi, now 20, is the only child in her family over the age of 13 still attending school. During the week she goes to a school in San Salvador that is run by the church and stays in quarters there. On weekends, she returns home to Jicaron to stay with her family. She is learning English there, along with other subjects, and practices with me when I visit their home.

(months pass after January 27th…)

More…(updated info).
All this time I thought my neighbor Heidi* was going to an “after” high school or finishing type school, but I learned differently. She explained to me frankly that she had dropped out of grade school when she was around 13 (and in 5th or 6th grade). She went back, thanks to the church, years later at 18.

She is attending a grade school sponsored by the church, to finish her schooling  through the 9th grade.  After that, she would like to complete her “Bachillerato,” or 10th-12th grade, equivalent to American “high school,” and from there, maybe University or a technical school.   I applaud her efforts and think she will make it as she is a bright, attractive, and confident.

She told me that her father, who has been living in the United States for several years, does not think school is important.  This is not uncommon in the country in El Salvador, I even see it in my husband’s family.  The family’s mother and children Margie, Heidi, Geremy, Chris, and Laura all live in the family home, which fits everyone comfortably, though some sleep 2+ to a room.  Margie (about the same age as Heidi) and Geremy (around 16) also dropped out of grade school some time ago.  Geremy tells me the issue is money.  My husband explains it may also be about shame; Geremy did not get further than “quinto” or fifth grade, and it’s very embarrassing to sit in a classroom of kids 3-5 years younger than you.  OK, now get this: there was not enough money to pay for the textbooks and other expenses for Margie and Geremy to finish “grade” school, but…a new cinder block home was built next to their family home, with money from the father’s USA income, in which one of his sons, all of 22 years old, is now living with his wife.  By Salvadoran standards, that’s living quite comfortably. Meanwhile, no one next door except for Heidi, who was miraculously saved by the church, is finishing even grade school.       ???????

The church school is funded in large part by American “padrinos” who donate money.  Thank God for padrinos, we need more of them. When I go back to the states and start working again, I’d like to become a padrino for kids in El Salvador, they need all the help they can get.

* to protect the identify of my neighbors, their names have been changed.

2 responses to “Priority for Education in El Salvador (or lack thereof)

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  1. I can say that El Salvador today is not a mirror image of what it was prior to the civil war. I’ve traveled through Latin America since the early 80s; primarily Mexico, Central America and Colombia. I worked as a special agent and training detachment from the 1990s until just recently.

    My observations are that like most civil wars, a big price was paid by the populace from a forced diaspora as many able-bodied guanacos moved to more peaceful regions to wait out the war; such as the USA. After the armistice and peace agreement in 1992, an infant government was scribed by the UN, Catholic church and local government. The primary puppeteer however was the USA.

    Western ideals and values infiltrated the country and the promise of wealth and aspiration to obtain what we in the US call the “American Dream” appeared to be within grasp of many Salvadorans. Working aged men of 17-40 started to leave the pueblos and cities to work in the USA, Canada to send home money. Remittances make up more than half of El Salvador’s GNP; even today. Sending money became easier and quicker with technology, NAFTA and CAFTA. But at what cost?

    On my recent trips to El Salvador, I see more families run by a single mother who is already handling more than she is capable of. There is a strong reliance on remittances from family members in the USA/Canada. Young teens are entranced by American pop culture, X-box, PSP3, I-Pod, Apple computers and True Religion blue jeans. A retail culture forms where one strives to obtain what one cannot afford. A stronger reliance on remittances begins to dull the new generation’s entrepreneurial hunger and development. Youth see obtaining material goods or going to the USA as the ticket to success and wealth. Education becomes more of a secondary or tertiary concern.

    Can’t put all the blame on the kids and their parent(s). The Salvadoran school operates off of “Spanish customs”. Antiquated systems are practiced today with no apparent reason other than it’s “tradition” or “we always did it this way”. This manifests itself in children being compelled to purchase their own uniform, shoes, school equipment and sometimes books. No, we’re not talking about college; I’m talking about grade school. Even with remittances coming in from the mass diaspora, it’s not always enough to cover medical costs, food, travel expenses, bills, clothes, sundries, let alone school paraphernalia for a family that might have more than 3 or 4 school aged children.

    I often wish that the schools would realize that compelling children to look pretty does not equate to a solid education. My cunado dropped out of school when he was 11 years old because his mother could not afford the uniforms and equipment they compelled him to purchase to attend school.

    So what do pretty uniforms and shiny zapatos do for students? I visited my 13 year old cunada’s class one day; I was the subject of her “Show and Tell”. Everybody in class were dressed crisp and sharp. Kids were asking me if I came from the country of California and if I could drive to China from California. No one had the concept of the difference between Japan, Korea or China or who fought in World War II. Nazis murdered Jews? The United States dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan? No one knew what I was talking about.

    This state sanctioned road to ignorance and failure is only going to hurt El Salvador’s future. This is a country that truly has resources and people that can administrate it’s destiny. But I don’t know what the solution is. I have an opinion but I won’t opine on it publicly until I put more thought into it. I thought there were no ostriches in El Salvador until I visited it recently. I saw a lot of politicians, decision makers and parents with their head in the sand.

    • Hi Don Enrique, thank you for your comment and input on what’s going on here. I intended to write a blog with information on some good things the Funes Administration has started as of earlier this year (2011 – could even have been started late 2010) regarding subsidies for schooling. The government is now providing kids with money for:
      a) uniforms b) shoes (big plus – they can run up to 35 bucks here – compares to over 100 bucks in the states), and
      c) a snack or meal every day at school ( half the time its something like rice pudding, but the other half it can be substantial like macaroni or pupusas – basically a meal) which cost $1.50 a month to help pay for the women who cook the food.

      Since there are NO public school buses in El Salvador, parents need help. Paying for uniforms and shoes is huge, as you mentioned why make them pretty. The food aspect is a big plus in my opinion, as it actually helps parents way beyond the 1.50 by the end of the month. I cannot speak for every school, but in Los Planes de Renderos where my friends daughter goes, she rattled off the ‘menu’ and I thought, ‘heck, not bad, this should help parents now that beans and maize have shot thru the roof’.

      it’s sad how little those 13 years olds in your cunada’s class knew. I was alarmed a couple of times when I saw kids showing me their English homework, which consisted of writing numbers or phrased in repeated sequences over and over and over in a notebook. All that repetition does not teach someone to think with intuition or ingenuity. But it is way beyond what it was 20 years ago if you look back – where some of my cunados played hooky or dropped out as young as 9 years old back then, in that same neighborhood I know of no kids younger than 12 or 13 that would even dare play hooky, so it’s progress in slow steps. Positive peer pressure helps. But “Paquetes Escolar” (school packages) help even more.

      I’m not sure how America’s card plays in the road to ignorance – if we hadn’t meddled in their affairs through all of the 1980’s where would they be now? Worse, better, same? I wonder.

      On the one hand I am tempted to side with you on remittances squashing entrepreneurial spark. But I think it’s multi-pronged. Throughout the war you had mass flight. Farmers in the country abandoned large, profitable farms that employed many workers, and never came back. For the farms and workers that stayed, my mother in law says where you had 20 or 30 men doing work at harvest all by hand, there are machines now that cut that number down to 5. So war and technology reduced their jobs, while as we know, they exploded exponentially in numbers. My in-laws had 14 kids. Most of their neighbors had 8 – 10 kids average, some 12+. 6 or less was considered a small family. Exploding population with an anemic economy. America and Europe took the pill and had 3-5 kids or less, often 2, during the same period. Just as well so we could absorb huge waves of immigrants starting in the 1980s. But the kids in C.A keep coming even today. and coming. and coming. But no jobs in Central America, and less jobs these days in the U.S.

      So that, on top of HEADS in the SAND – which I completely agree with you – and it’s tough for people here.

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