Jennifer, Maguire Fellow in Guatemala

Jennifer is a senior majoring in human rights and public policy. She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship for summer 2015 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU for her work in community development.

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Project Impact and Education in Guatemala

This update is from July 11, 2015.

Today has been quite an adventure, which began promptly with a 4 a.m. trip to the airport. A group of 22 that included the SMU Center for Child and Community Development staff, educators, volunteers, and MLI representatives traveled from Dallas to Houston and then from Houston to Guatemala City.

The entire group arriving in Guatemala.

The entire group arriving in Guatemala.

The beginning stages of this project have led me to believe that for those reading my blog to understand the impact of the work that the CCCD does in conjunction with the Magdaleno Leadership Institute in projects such as the library renovation, it is important to understand the situation in which the Guatemalan education system is in, and how that impacts communities such as Santa Maria de Jesus.

Article 47 of the Guatemalan Constitution stipulates that students by law are required to attend school until the age of 15. However according to a study done by USAID, two million children do not. In addition, Article 89 of the National Education Law in Guatemala states that the education system will receive no less than 35 percent of revenue of general government allocations. However, the actual budget allocated for education is only 17 percent of general government allocations. Currently this issue of under-funding has been exasperated with the current revelation of various corruption scandals that have been revealed by the CICIG in Guatemala, where various government officials have stolen billions of dollars in government revenue. Due to this serious lack and theft of funding, public officials in Guatemala, which include teachers, are not being paid for months at a time, schools are not receiving the supplies they need to both feed their students and educate them. For example, a teacher with 18 students in a class may only receive funding for two textbooks for the class. This situation with the education system makes it clear as to why Guatemala as a nation has the highest illiteracy rate in Central America.

There are also very evident gender disparities in  the education system in Guatemala, which poses a great problem in the education of girls in Guatemala. Sexism and poverty in Guatemala fuel this educational gender gap in which girls are leaving the education system far sooner and more often than boys. Young girls in some parts of the country may leave their educational responsibilities to attend to other family necessities, such as tending for younger siblings, selling in the markets, weaving, and other activities. Because of this, Guatemala as a nation also has the lowest enrollment of females in secondary school in all of Latin America.

A young girl from la Escuela Oficial Urbana de Niñas Leonor Rosales vda de Ramirez in the indigenous community of Santa Maria de Jesus shows us her homework proudly during our visit to the school.

A young girl from la Escuela Oficial Urbana de Niñas Leonor Rosales vda de Ramirez, in the indigenous community of Santa Maria de Jesus, shows us her homework proudly during our visit to the school.

It is important to also note that these educational issues are even more severe in rural and indigenous areas. For example, 76 percent of all rural, indigenous children who enter first grade drop out before completing primary school. These educational conditions are a key factor in the perpetual cycle of poverty that continues to plague Guatemala, especially amongst rural and indigenous communities.

These severe issues with the Guatemalan education system make institutions like public libraries extremely vital in the educational development of children, and even adults, around Guatemala. The need to access books and Internet service is dire especially in rural and indigenous areas. In addition the implementation of empowerment and leadership academies can be very influential in the motivation for young girls to remain in school. It has even been proven that the education of girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty.

Because of these reasons, projects like this done by the Magdaleno Leadership Institute in conjunction with the SMU Center for Child and Community Development are extremely impactful and beneficial not only to the community of Santa Maria de Jesus but to the entire Guatemalan nation. It has truly been a pleasure and eye-opening experience taking part in this very gratifying and impactful work in Guatemala.

Note: All the statistics and facts on the Guatemalan Educational system were taken from this fact sheet from the  Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA.

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