From Tue Oct 15 10:18:43 2002
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2002 18:08:16 -0500 (CDT)
From: NicaNet <<
Subject: Nicaragua Network Hotline
Article: 145996
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Minister Admits to Growing School Drop-out Rate

Nicaragua Network Hotline, 14 October 2002

Silvio De Franco, the Bolaqos government education minister, last week reported low school attendance figures in general and admitted to what he called a savage fall in school attendance in rural areas. Hardly surprisingly, given the generally catastrophic effects of the coffee crisis imposed on Nicaragua by the fall in international market prices, he observed that the worst affected areas were in the Departments of Estelm and Matagalpa, heart of the coffee country.

The school abandonment rate is seriously alarming, he said. It's enormous; and clearly correlated to poverty levels. Where we're seeing the worst figures is in second and third grades. Ministry statistics showed that only 1,200,000 children are in school, leaving some 861,000 abandoned. In a nation battered by gang activity, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and suicide among young people, De Franco said he was most concerned that almost 50% of children between the ages of 13 and 18 were not able to study with any regularity.

It's a cycle, a trap sprung by poverty, he continued. In many homes the children have to dedicate themselves to adult work either part or even fulltime. Left without education, it becomes almost impossible for them to break the cycle. To be poor is to be condemned to the lack of education. The situation has the government profoundly concerned. It's clear that we have to reform the system at a profound level; it must become more equitable. Minister De Franco failed to note that an added factor in poor parents' inability to send their children to school has been the imposition of user fees for education as mandated by the IMF and World Bank. The fees are supposed to be voluntary, but in many cases the government has abandoned the schools (calling this abandonment school autonomy and in order to function, teachers must collect fees from the students. Even small fees prevent many poor families from sending one or more of their children to school.

The Minister noted that another worrying factor was that many parents saw little benefit in sending their children to preschool and kindergarten. While we're most concerned about the adolescent educational gap, he explained, it's most unfortunate that parents leave children to drift between the ages of 3 and 6. This is a vital educational stage and has profound effects on later learning capability. Before the Sandinista Revolution in 1979, there were no preschool or kindergarten classes in the public schools. These two years of early childhood education were reserved for children whose parents could afford to send them to private school. It is lamentable now that so few parents in the present economic situation are able to have their children take advantage of this education, which was a gain of the revolution.

De Franco ended on something of a more positive note, announcing that the government had signed an agreement with CARE International and other such bodies to obtain significant support in the coming school year, 2003.