Education in Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Latin America with one of the highest illiteracy rates. Furthermore, 79% of indigenous Guatemalans live in poverty. Education in Guatemala lacks government funding and has further limitations, especially in rural areas. Educators face inadequate or non-existent supplies, no training and no desks or tables in more rural areas. With remote learning emerging worldwide during the pandemic, many students in Guatemala lost their access to education due to missing technological equipment. Gerardo Ixcoy, a 27-year-old teacher in the small farming community of Santa Cruz de Quiche, is bringing the classroom to his students to ensure they keep learning.

Guatemalan Students Face More Than COVID-19

Unlike most western countries, only the first six years of school are free in Guatemala. Junior high and high schools require entrance fees, uniforms and supplies. Since 75% of the population lives below the poverty line, only around one-third of students continue with secondary education. Many families struggle to regularly put food on the table, making education in Guatemala a luxury rather than a necessity. Only a mere 10% attend high school.

Children who cannot afford schooling often end up working for a low wage and cannot pursue higher education even as adults. Illiteracy is common, with rates of up to 25% in adults and young adults over 15. Indigenous children thereby face the most problems. Language barriers and lack of schools physically existing near their rural communities have failed to integrate Guatemala’s indigenous children into the school system.

A Hero on Three Wheels

As shutdowns across the world spread due to COVID-19, Guatemala is no exception. When schools closed in the middle of March 2020, Gerardo Ixcoy purchased a used adult tricycle with his savings. At first, Ixcoy attempted the normal distance learning route via internet apps such as WhatsApp to give children their worksheets, but less than 15% of homes have internet in the farming community. Many could not afford the necessary data packages to utilize online learning either. Education in Guatemala, especially in rural areas, is vital to keep children from working on the streets. Over 40% of the population in Santa Cruz de Quiche is illiterate and children run the risk of becoming part of that statistic due to the pandemic. Thus, Ixcoy took action.

Ixcoy turned a simple second-hand tricycle into a mobile, pandemic-safe classroom. Plastic barriers adorn the sides serve as protection measures and he installed a whiteboard to show examples while teaching. The mobile classroom even has a solar panel for the stereo that is used for certain lessons. He maintains six feet of distance, often teaching children just outside their doorways. Every day, Ixcoy pedals to each student to teach them math, reading, science and art.

After weeks of quarantine, the children have something to look forward to. Both the children and Ixcoy wear face masks to avoid spreading the virus but continue lessons as normal as possible. Oscar Rojas, an 11-year-old student of Ixcoy says, “because now I’m not receiving normal classes, Teacher Lalito only comes for a little while to teach me, but I learn a lot.”

Ixcoy’s dedication to his student’s academic success is not only incredibly moving, but may also be a potential solution to the lack of educational access in Guatemala.

– Amanda Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Guatemala
One of the strongest economic performers in Latin America in recent years, Guatemala’s GDP has steadily grown. However, the benefits of this economic growth have not been realized by a large portion of Guatemalan society, particularly the indigenous population. The top 10 facts about poverty in Guatemala reveal that, while it is a country with tremendous economic potential, several institutional changes must occur before the welfare of all the people in Guatemala can improve.

Top 10 Facts about Poverty in Guatemala

  1. Poverty affects the majority of Guatemalan citizens. In 2014, the poverty rate estimations were about 60 percent. But even more astounding than this estimate is the fact that today almost 40 percent of the population is affected by extreme poverty, meaning that they live on $1.50 or less each day.
  2. Forty percent of the population is employed in the industry. Guatemala has long depended heavily on its agricultural sector for export revenues and its overall economic stability has been correlated with the performance in this sector. Despite the importance of the sector, the majority of the seven million Guatemalans employed in the agricultural sector receive insufficient wages.
  3. Guatemala is still recovering, both economically and socially, from its civil war. The war lasted 36 years, from 1960 to 1996, instilling a deep division between the government and its opposition, the rural poor, a large portion of which were indigenous Mayans. The divisions and mistrust between the poor population and the Guatemalan government still persist.
  4. Indigenous peoples in Guatemala face disproportionate levels of poverty and human development than non-indigenous people. With 60 percent of indigenous Guatemalans living in extreme poverty, it is clear that the government must address the institutional practices contributing to their social exclusion and economic deprivation.
  5. Rural inhabitants have little access to education, due to a lack of investment from the government. Many rural areas do not have schools at all, necessitating a long and expensive commute for rural families. With the current state of poverty in Guatemala, many rural families cannot afford to send their children to school. Low levels of education have contributed to a low literacy rate of 81.5 percent.
  6. Guatemala’s tax system has historically been weak, making it difficult for the government to institute welfare programs and invest in infrastructural development. Tax evasion has long been a problem in the country with an estimated evasion rate of 34.2 percent in 2015.
  7. There is an extreme level of income disparity in Guatemala, with less than 1 percent of the population in control of half of the country’s wealth.
  8. Violence and extortion in Guatemala are rampant and largely associated with economic deprivation. In 2015, the Honduran newspaper, La Prensa, found that Guatemalans involuntarily paid $61 million to organized crime groups. These organized crime groups have reportedly infiltrated state institutions, allowing them to operate above the law. Unchecked violence and extortion have driven thousands of Guatemalans to seek asylum in the United States.
  9. In 2016, Guatemala received a $250 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) targeted toward improving tax collection and raising tax revenues. Historically, the IDB has played the role of financier and consultant for sustainable, poverty-reducing development in Latin American countries.
  10. The United States provided $297 million of aid to Guatemala in 2016. The U.S. Agency for International Development has given $9.8 million thus far in 2018 in order “to create a Guatemala in which economic opportunity exists and irregular migration is not necessary in order to find success.”

The top 10 facts about poverty in Guatemala demonstrate that by working to solve the issues of its neighbors, the United States can solve issues of its own in ways that will prove to be constructive for all parties involved.

Achievement of long-term social and economic objectives rest on the U.S. State Department’s commitment to Guatemalan aid and the Guatemalan government’s commitment to collaborate with international supporters.

Beyond this, the Guatemalan government must address the fundamental inadequacies within its current institutions that have disproportionately affected rural and indigenous people.

– Julius Long

Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Guatemala
Attending school in Guatemala presents many challenges. In a country where poverty and inequality are prevalent, indigenous females are the most disadvantaged and vulnerable group. With little protection of the rights of adolescent girls, many girls and women do not attend school and are forced into child labor. More than two million children in Guatemala are not attending school; the majority of these are indigenous girls living in rural areas.

Barriers to Education in Guatemala Affect Girls Most

The prevalence of child labor is higher in Guatemala than anywhere else in Latin America. With more than half the population living below the poverty line, many children can not afford the cost of school. Dropout rates for girls are high. According to the Cooperative for Education, a nonprofit organization providing educational resources and opportunities to indigenous Mayan schoolchildren, an indigenous Guatemalan woman stays in school for an average of 1.8 years. They often leave school early to help support their family, take care of siblings or get married.

Furthermore, more than half of the Guatemalan population is indigenous and less than 30 percent of poor, rural indigenous girls are enrolled in secondary education. By age 17, only 26 percent of indigenous girls are still enrolled in school.

Even for those who are able to attend school, particularly in rural schools and in indigenous communities, they find that they are poorly funded and do not have adequate books, curriculum guides, literacy materials and exam prep guides. Nine out of 10 schools in rural Guatemala lack books. Another problem, especially in rural areas, is a lack of proper training for teachers. This stems from the challenges of recruiting and retaining quality teachers in rural schools.

USAID Partners with Guatemalan Ministry of Education

Despite these challenges, there are actions being taken by organizations to improve the quality of education. USAID works in partnership with the government of Guatemala to improve primary level reading skills and provide educational opportunities for out-of-school youth. These efforts have resulted in improvements to the education system in many ways, as the Ministry of Education has now developed strong K-9 national education standards.

USAID has also implemented an innovative assessment system for entry-level teachers using standardized testing in Spanish and nine Mayan languages to hire and place teachers. It was also through USAID support that the ministry improved its transparency and efficiency of its processes, which led to it receiving an international certification of its management system. The ministry is the first public institution to meet this standard.

Girl Up Gives Special Focus to Girls’ Education in Guatemala

The need for investment in girls’ education in Guatemala is crucial. Education can help fight the disadvantages indigenous girls in Guatemala face, such as limited schooling, early marriage, frequent childbearing and chronic poverty. Work supporting girls’ education in Guatemala is progressing. Girl Up supports adolescent girls in Guatemala by funding a United Nations joint program which delivers an integrated and comprehensive package of services in partnership with national partners and local implementing organizations. The programs address complex challenges which limit indigenous girls’ opportunities for success.

Girl Up has four strategic goals, including:

  • Providing an increase in social investments for adolescent girls
  • Increasing the legal age of marriage to 18
  • Reducing teenage pregnancy, sexual violence and trafficking
  • Supporting civil efforts that demand comprehensive sex education

It also works to strengthen government support and capacity with a specific focus on indigenous girls in rural areas with Guatemala’s Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and the National Institute of Statistics to support adolescent girls from around the country.

Building partnerships with local organizations is also a focus of Girl Up. Through this, it has implemented activities that have strengthened the social skills of hundreds of adolescent girls from rural communities. Girl Up supports U.N. programs in two of the most excluded and vulnerable regions of Guatemala, Totonicapán and Huehuetenango. This support has included providing educational materials in indigenous languages to make learning easier and giving girls forced to drop out of school a second chance.

Through these investments in girls’ education in Guatemala, lives will be changed. Girls will have the ability to achieve their goals, improve their futures and change their communities.

– Ashley Quigley
Photo: Flickr