Last week the local school celebrated completion of about $80,000 worth of work to totally refurbish its two buildings and provide a proper outside play and assembly area. The school, a basic structure originally built by local organisation MASINFA in 1993, with funding from Masaya’s twin city of Nijmegen in Holland, was badly in need of improvements. Previously we’ve helped the school repaint one of its classrooms (I painted the windows!). My wife Abi was the main organiser, with local schools head and fellow councillor Ninoska Nicaragua, of the recent opening ceremony, attended by about 200 children and parents.
The school is also one of two which experienced the ‘Trees for Life’ project that Leicester Masaya Link Group carried out a couple of years ago. It’s good to report that many of the forest trees planted around the school boundary by children, as part of the project, are still thriving.
Problems remain. The Sandinista government has managed to achieve much higher levels of school attendance and everything is now free of charge, but of course with more children there is even more pressure on resources. The quality of teaching leaves a lot to be desired, with most teachers being poorly qualified. A team of Cuban educational advisers has been working with the education ministry to diagnose what improvements are needed.
The government now plans to retrain primary and secondary teachers around the country. Rosario Murillo, the government communications co-ordinator (and wife of President Ortega) has announced that next school year 4,000 secondary teachers will join university classes in order to obtain degrees. Meanwhile, over 6,000 other high school teachers will study in continuing education programmes online or on television. And 10,500 teachers of first to third grade children will be trained in new techniques for teaching reading, writing and maths. More than 1,000 teachers will be trained to teach English and finally 3,846 principals and vice-principals will receive new training.
However, the total education budget remains small. Nicaragua spends less than five per cent of GDP on education, which is not untypical (the UK is six per cent) but it has the lowest GDP per head in Central America and one of the youngest populations. Everyone knows that in reality massive investment is needed if kids are to leave school properly educated, or even with full competence in the basic subjects.
You can see a short video of the opening here.