Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 16:27:26 -0600 (CST)
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Literacy For All a Distant Dream
By Celina Zubieta, IPS, 10 March 1999
GUATEMALA CITY, Mar 10 (IPS) - Nearly one-third of the 11.6 million people of Guatemala cannot read or write - despite government efforts to boost the rate of literacy.
Most of the 32.7 percent of people who are illiterate are women and people living in rural areas but the Deputy Minister of Education, Roberto Moreno, said in an interview that the government aimed to bring the illiteracy rate down to 30 percent this year.
This was established in the peace accords signed with guerrillas in 1996. The agreement, which ended a 36-years-long civil war and left 200,000 dead, establish goals for the reduction of illiteracy, as well as a 50 percent increase in spending for education by the year 2000 - in relation to to the 1995 budget.
The accords also established mandatory primary education for the first three grades for all children between 7 and 12-years- old, and bi-lingual education in rural areas.
In Guatemala, where half of the population is indigenous, there are 22 different languages and 80 percent of the people live in conditions of poverty and extreme poverty. According to the National Survey on Mother and Child Health, 50 percent of children under the age of five suffers from chronic malnutrition.
Moreno acknowledged that the resources available for education were insufficient, and funds earmarked for that area amounted to less than 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product. The United Nations recommends a minimum of six percent.
Still, Moreno said that between 1997 and 1998, education coverage in Guatemala increased 13 percent.
The 1999 report on the State of the World's Children by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) stressed that guaranteeing the right to education was a "question of morality, justice and economic sense."
It also pointed out that it was not enough just to ensure children attended school, the quality of schooling had to be improved as well.
Although the Latin American and Caribbean regions had high rates of registration in the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, "the low quality of education in most countries has led to high rates of drop-out and grade repetition", the report said.
UNICEF said that Brazil and Guatemala had the highest rates of grade repetition - both more than 15 percent.
A Self-Managed Program for the Development of Education (PRONADE) was implemented with the aim of broadening educational services in Guatemala's rural areas, especially in remote places not covered by regular services.
The PRONADE transfers financial resources to the Community Education Committees (COEDUCAS) to cover teacher and support services.
The Ministry of Education's programme for school breakfasts, which provided half of the daily nutritional requirements for school-age children in the rural areas, increased in numbers from 24,000 in 1997 to nearly 100,000 in 1998.
Olga Giron, a 20-year-old woman who works as a domestic employee, currently is finishing fifth and sixth grade primary schooling as part of a radio education program called "The Teacher in the Home".
Giron explained in an interview that when she was a child she could not attend school because her parents were very poor and the school was too far. At 14, she went to work in the city and decided to start school.
"I only go to school Sunday mornings, the only day I'm not working. But every day I listen to the classes on the radio and do my homework", she said.
The young woman hoped to finish her primary studies this year, so that next year she could start high-school through the same programme. (END/IPS/cz/dg/ed-pr/ea/mk/99)
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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