Mexico: Schools Without Leaks

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Each year about five million Mexican children benefit from the Basic Education Development Project. Begun in 1991, the projects supports schools in the poorest and most isolated regions of the country, with additional funding for infrastructure, school materials and incentives for teachers. The project now covers about 32 percent of all those enrolled in elementary schools in Mexico.

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MEXICO, August 29, 2005 — Just two years ago, Ana María Hernández was studying amid puddles of water.

Her school was a palapa - an open-sided structure of palm leaves - barely capable of sheltering her and her schoolmates from the torrential rain in the Mexican state of Tabasco – one of the wettest and most flood prone states in the country. 

But now, 12 year old Ana María is about to finish elementary school in a well-built classroom. She is one of the first generation of pupils learning in classrooms built of concrete in the public elementary school of Belisario Domínguez Palencia, located in an isolated, palm-tree filled community in the southeast of Mexico.

Up until two years ago, the school located in the savannah, west of the Tabasco state capital of Villahermosa, consisted of four palapas, which were continuously hit by bad weather.  

“When it rained, we would get all wet. The rooms were not completely enclosed but just half enclosed,” Ana Maria says. “But now they have helped us and the school is much nicer.”

Her school is one of nearly 2,000 schools in Tabasco, which are part of the Basic Education Development Project (PAREIB), which supports schools in the poorest and most isolated regions of the country, through financing for infrastructure, school materials and incentives for teachers. The project not only now supports elementary schools, but also pre-school and secondary schools.

children studying

Critical Support

In Ana María’s school, the support from the project has been crucial, since the school is located in the shared farming community of Santuario First Section. It’s a community of about 3,000 people, who for the most part live on subsistence livestock and crop farming.  Overall about 80 percent of the population there lives in poverty.

“During the rainy season, water used to come from everywhere,” says teacher and head of the school, Jaime Magaña. “We would do as the chickens do and huddle close together. Now they have built us four rooms and I don’t want to brag, but it is one of the best equipped schools in the area.”

Marked Results

The program has already achieved obvious results. Since its inception,
the proportion of incomplete schools went down from 14 to 9 percent in 2003. This, in turn, had a significant effect on the country’s educational indicators, as shown by the fact more children are completing school.

In Tabasco, in particular, the proportion of incomplete schools fell from 4.7 percent to 2 percent. The percentage of children finishing elementary school rose from 90 to 99 percent, and is now close to the national average.

The program has also led to a drop in the numbers of children who stopped going to school simply because they didn’t have the necessary pencils or notebooks, as the program also allows for buying of education materials.  In many cases, parents could not provide these materials on their own. 

The financing known as School Management Support (AGE), is supplemented by an additional incentive for teachers, so they improve their performance in the classroom. The incentives is also aimed at developing a teachers’ ties to a school, as many teachers live outside the local community and must travel long distances to teach.

school before renovation
School before renovation.

Return to Basics

The direct support to the schools, in addition to the regular education budget, has been crucial in indigenous communities, which are the ones lagging furthest behind, both economically and educationally. 

Carlos Manuel León Chablé and his 55 classmates, from the Margarita Maza de Juárez School in the chontal community of Ranchería Güero Arrancado, have used the program to help rediscover their cultural roots. 

Now, they study chontal language – the language of their parents and grandparents - two hours a week in the classroom.

Located about 105 km east of Villahermosa in a swampy region fed by the mighty Usumacinta river, the community gets by with an income of about US$4 per day per family. It’s a small community with a population of 245 people, who survive through subsistence farming and fishing. 

Though the parents and grandparents of 12–year-old Carlos Manuel speak chontal among themselves, he and his siblings can hardly understand it. However, the situation has started to change.

“Now I can talk a little because the teacher has taught me to talk in chontal,” Carlos Manuel says. “And I can recite a poem.”

Involving Parents

The success of the program is not only due to the extra funds, but also to the involvement of the community - especially the parents - in supervising the use of resources and teachers’ performance.

“Before, the teachers came from the city and when the weather was bad and the road was flooded, they sometimes couldn’t get to school,” says parent, Rosa María Pérez López.

However now it’s different. “Now they come on time and are responsible. They live here and they organize the people and the parents to do tasks. We work together and they are very creative,” she says.

Forty-one-year-old López is the mother of seven children. Three of her children are in the Belisario Domínguez Palencia School in the shared farming community of Ranchería First Section.

school girl

Teacher Incentive

The incentive for teachers has been important. The incentive is equal to 25 percent of a teacher’s total salary. It’s given to teachers who work nine extra hours in the afternoons, helping students who are behind catch up on their work. The incentive is only provided if the parents’ representative vouches the teacher has been teaching regularly.

Darvi Arias, 30, the only teacher in the federal rural elementary school of Professor Ricardo Aguilar Gutiérrez, knows the value of the incentive.

His school is in La Pitahaya, a community of 200 people with high levels of poverty, who live on subsistence fishing in the swamp area. The school has only 30 pupils - from first to sixth grade - who study all in the same room with the same teacher.

“The incentive helped the children who were most behind, since I was able to help them in the afternoons instead of their parents making them work,” Arias says. “Personally, it was an important economic help. It helped me improve my quality of life as a teacher since a little help doesn’t hurt anyone.”

Education in Mexico

In Tabasco, like the rest of Mexico, progress has been impressive and yet the needs appear endless.

“Providing education to all the children is difficult in a country that is as geographically and culturally heterogeneous as Mexico,” explains Harry Patrinos, World Bank education expert for Latin America and the Caribbean and manager of PAREIB. 

“But by supporting the most marginalized schools, the programs really help to improve education in a country that, as an emerging economy, increasingly needs a better prepared population to compete and become more prosperous.”

For students like Ana María Hernández, the school’s existence provides hope for a different future. Ana María does not want to be a seamstress like her mother but rather a schoolteacher. “I see that teachers are really helping us and that is what I want to do.” 




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