An education system in ruins

At the end of November, the online periodical El Faro published on its website a wide-ranging investigation titled X-Ray of an Educational System in Ruins.   With data, video, interviews and analysis, El Faro presents a comprehensive look at an educational system which is largely failing to provide the education needed by the country's children.

Although annual spending to provide school uniforms, shoes, school supplies and a meager daily meal have helped boost attendance levels in the schools since 2009, the government has made little progress in actually investing in what is taught in those schools.  Yearly testing by the government of high school students shows the lack of academic progress year over year.

84% of school students in the country attend one of the 5136 public schools in El Salvador.

Each year the government gives a test to all high school students finishing their final year (the "PAES").   This year's scores were released on November 15, and the national average on a 10 point scale was 5.36.   That score was the highest since 2008, but still far from the 6.0 necessary to simply pass.  In fact, there has been a national average score above 6 only 4 times in the past 20 years.   And for public schools, the average was even lower: 5.03.

The El Faro investigation gathers the evidence surrounding the lack of a well thought out and funded strategy for public education in the country:

Investment in public education is woefully low.   For example, 1320 schools have an operating budget of between $1500 and $1590 per year to cover all their non-salary costs.

School facilities are poor. 18 public schools have no source of water and 128 have no electricity.  Five have neither water nor electricity.   Only 21% of schools have toilets connected to sanitary sewers.

Only 29% of public schools have a computer room.  70% of the schools do not have internet access.   Only 21% have a library. 

Only 20% of the teachers have completed a college degree.   Teachers are often required to teach subjects for which they have not been trained.

3487 schools (68% of public schools)  must combine at least some students from different grade levels into a single classroom.   But in only 827 of the schools have the teachers received formal training in how to run a multi-grade classroom.

The school calendar shows 200 school days at the beginning of the year.    But with holidays and work days and civic days and Mother's Day, Father's Day and Day of the Teacher and many other reasons not to hold class, a study showed that Salvadoran boys and girls only are in class about 100 days per year.   

Facing economic challenges and neighborhoods permeated with gang violence, only 40% of students who start first grade will finish high school (bachillerato).   Only half of those will go on to university.    Only 10% of Salvadoran students will ultimately receive some sort of college degree.

For many of the problems facing El Salvador, changing old failed models and investing in quality education, are a necessary part of the solution.    But so far campaign promises by politicians elections to see substantial increases in education funding have gone largely unfulfilled.