One of the reasons why many children do not attend school may be surprising but unfortunately it is true.
Karlita lives in a rural area in Pasaquina in the department of La Unión in El Salvador. At age 7, she went to school for the first time, the starting age for primary education in the country. In her first year it has been difficult for her to learn. Her parents, seeing that she did not take advantage of the school, decide to withdraw her from school. Her parents also see the situation of her neighbors, whose children, Juan and Ana, despite having graduated from high school and having tried hard to find work, have not yet succeeded.
Karlita is one of the 50% of children who did not finish primary school in El Salvador, while Juan and Ana are 21% who graduated and are unable to find employment. El Salvador’s educational system faces many challenges, in terms of educational quality, curriculum, teachers, enrollment systems, management information to make decisions, but one of the most serious, if not the most serious, is the low attendance of children in school. If this problem is not solved, there will be little impact on education policies.
In El Salvador, only 5 out of 10 people manage to finish their primary education, 3 finish their secondary education and only 1 goes to university. There are several contextual factors that directly affect these numbers: on the one hand, the high rates of violence and the lack of nearby schools in rural areas, and on the other hand, domestic work and other household causes.
However, these factors are not the main causes of the high levels of non-attendance reported in the school-age population. According to the 2017 household survey, the main determinants of non-attendance in secondary school are others: 39% of families say that they are not interested in their children attending school, 17% think that secondary education is very expensive and 15% you need to work. Only 4% do not attend school due to violence or insecurity, 4% because there is no nearby school, 6% due to domestic work and 5% due to domestic causes.
And the situation is similar in primary school, at that level, the little interest in education in families is the first reason why children do not attend 41% of the time. In many cases, it is because the children do not arrive prepared to learn, because in 45% of the cases they did not attend preschool. And, once inside the school, many parents lose interest in their children continuing to study when they see that they are not learning.
On the other hand, it is normal to hear the heads of households of low-income Salvadoran families say: “education is not eaten” . Unfortunate opinions that reveal the reality faced by families in the country, education is simply not perceived as an investment option, particularly for low-income households. Recent statistical data shows that the returns to education have gradually decreased for each educational level. For example, the return on finishing high school in 2014 is almost half of what it was in 2000 (17% vs. 33%).
In addition, it might seem that the more years of study, the lower the proportion of young people between 15 and 24 years old who get a paid job. For example, those who only studied primary school have a lower unemployment rate (9%) than young people who reached secondary school (15%) and university (24%).
Although less educated young people tend to participate more than the employed population, they mostly work informally (64%). Furthermore, young people work in sectors with lower added value (primary sector and informal commerce), sectors that employ 50% of the population, but that generate 35% of GDP.
The role of the government should be to coordinate labor supply and demand; on the one hand, to provide the population with sufficient skills and competencies to break into the labor market, offering a quality educational service from the earliest levels and to reduce gaps in different socioeconomic levels; and, on the other hand, attracting companies and improving economic growth, through more and better investment, which allows generating quality jobs and improving the well-being of families.
Education must be part of the life project of families and the efforts of political leaders must be aimed at making this possible. Therefore, all the policies and programs that aim to improve the quality of the Salvadoran educational system are important, but not sufficient, since they are part of an integral set of policies that must be designed and debated within the country, this with the purpose of improving job opportunities.
Education must be accompanied by a promise of professional and personal development, a promise of which many young people have been deprived, and for which many families have lost interest in their children’s education.
Blog published in: Inter-American Development Bank’s Blogs