The Education Crisis in Honduras

This article by Jorge Gallardo Rius was originally published in HondurasWeekly.com on January 16, 2010. It is an informative account of the current state of public education in Honduras. It is great to know the parents are organizing to improve the education of their children. We should do everything we can to support them.

Education and Development

One of the indexes used to measure the educational level of a population is the average amount of years of formal schooling. In Honduras, that index is 6.5, that is, the average Honduran has 6.5 years of formal schooling. It grows one school year every 10 years.

In the early 1960s, this index was similar for Honduras as for Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and other nations known as the Asian Tigers for their rapid economic growth. Since, these countries have advanced the education of their people and their index is now above 12 years.

If you make a graph of the average years of formal schooling and compare it to a graph of the people’s income in that country, you will find that both follow a similar pattern. The close relationship between education and economic development is unquestioned today.

Public education is a form of wealth. In Honduras, many people still don’t see it that way. Yet many parents pay private schools that do nothing better than complete the public study plan, because usually the public schools don’t complete it. In developed nations, the quality of public schools has even been linked to the value of real estate: properties are worth more in districts where the quality of public schools is higher.

The quality of public education is not only a matter for the parents who have their children in public schools, but a matter that should concern all Hondurans interested in living in a better country.

Education and the Political Crisis

In Honduras, we have a saying that “It’s not the same thing to see her coming, as talking to her.” When Zelaya boosted the minimum salary by 62%, teachers’ salaries, which are a multiple of the minimum salary, skyrocketed. But not only did their salaries jump, also the side benefits, like the contribution that the government makes to the teachers’ pension fund, also skyrocketed. So it didn’t come as a surprise that, when Zelaya’s government went to the bank, there weren’t enough funds to pay the new salaries.

Before Zelaya’s ouster on June 28th, it had already been a conflictive year between the government and the teacher unions. Not only was the government behind on payment of their salaries, as usual, the government was also withholding both the government portion and the amounts deducted from teachers’ salaries as contribution to the Teachers’ pension fund, something which had never happened before. The Pension fund (IMPREMA) faced a lack of liquidity with which to pay the pensions of retired teachers.

Teachers had been on and off strikes for months and naturally, the children’s education suffered. Suddenly, 5-6 days before the illegal referendum of June 28th, the government made a partial payment of teachers’ salaries and the major union leaders came on national TV announcing their support of Zelaya’s illegal Constituent Assembly. No one doubted they had been bought off.

After June 28th, the teacher unions called another national strike, as always with suspension of classes, but this time for indefinite time, until Zelaya was reinstated as President, they said.

And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Parents rose in anger, tired of teachers making their children the victims of politics. They demanded that politics not be mixed with education and that their children’s human right to a quality education be respected. The Interim Government and the Human Rights Commission assigned inspectors to witness teacher’s absences and threatened to deduct missed school days from teachers’ salaries. In the end, most teachers, conscious of their rightful duty, returned to the classrooms and the government backed away from their threat.

ASOPAFA – Asociación de Padres de Familia

The rebellion of the parents was spontaneous. They were disorganized and lacked the resources to sustain greater actions. Recently, they have become a legal NGO and are struggling to implement coherent actions to protect and advance their children’s education under very tough circumstances.

Once again, the teachers are rebelling against the start of the new academic year, refusing to follow the calendar established by the Ministry of Education. Currently, they have postponed the start of school activities from January 18th to February 1st under the pretext that they don’t recognize the Interim government (although they accept the government’s paychecks). But they threaten to not start classes even then, if the government is not fully up-to-date with their payments, which has never happened before because it’s a new year under new contracts. In other words, they’re making unreal demands.

ASOPAFA is facing enormous challenges for the present and the future of education of Honduras. They must find a way to break the interference of politics in the national school system. For years, the administration of public schools has been left in the hands of inefficient government and union appointees, who use the public school system as a means to hire their political activists, with no clear-cut rules of accountability for their misdeeds and mismanagement of national resources.

In many schools, they face serious social problems with drug-trafficking, prostitution and gang violence. They face serious health issues, such as the lack of drinking water, food and epidemics. Some schools are in such dire physical conditions that they pose a threat to safety of the attendants. There is a lack of materials, such as textbooks, desks, blackboards, and computers, even chalk, pencils and paper are in short supply and hard to acquire by poor parents.

The parents need instruction on how to plan and manage a school budget and how to assist their children’s school in better ways. The Parents Association has 15,000 registered members of about 2.5 million possible, but their contact data is stashed in cardboard boxes. They receive calls from towns outside the capital with hundreds of parents who need help and want to join up, but don’t have the means to visit and assist them. They lack the organizational know-how and resources, yet they recently sponsored a televised forum of the presidential candidates speaking on their public education programs, with no other resources than a concentrated effort and a strong will to do everything in their power to better their children’s education.

Personally, I have always believed that a good public education system is a key to achieve progress and development in a country, and that the key to advance the public education system is that parents become involved in their schools. We now have the opportunity to promote progress and development in Honduras by strengthening ASOPAFA. I encourage all of you to search for ways to support this group of concerned parents with your time, efforts, ideas and resources, whichever way you can, to advance their cause for a good quality education in the Honduran public school system.

We are currently working to get their website up and running, and will continue to keep you posted on the progress they make.

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