In 1999, 23 percent of the Nicaraguan population age 10 and older was illiterate; in poor rural areas, the rate was actually 51 percent. The national average number of years of schooling was 4.5; about one-third of children did not attend primary school at all. In 1993, the government launched a program of school autonomy in order to increase efficiency and local accountability.
IDA started supporting the government’s program in 1995 through the First Basic Education project (APRENDE). That project was successful in improving pre-school and primary enrollment, but the program suffered a setback due to destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Nevertheless, the experience of the first Basic Education project demonstrated the viability of the school autonomy model (impact studies showed that autonomous schools had better student achievement indicators and lower repetition rates). It also confirmed that pre-school attendance has a significant effect on later school performance and can be a powerful tool for overcoming educational disadvantages of the poor and indigenous people. The Second Basic Education Project was able to draw on these lessons and increase the coverage and quality of preschool and primary school education. The project targeted five poor municipalities (Condega, Achuapa, El Sauce, Ciudad Darío and San Isidro) and had a strong focus on the Atlantic coast region where 98 percent of the indigenous people live.
The project contributed to an increase in the enrollment coverage of pre-schools and primary schools, particularly in targeted poor and indigenous communities.
- At the national level, the percentage of students who finished primary school in six years increased from 27 percent in 1997 to 41 percent in 2003, with girls benefiting the most in targeted municipalities. Average dropout rates decreased from 11 percent to 6 percent in primary school, with autonomous schools driving this reduction: dropout rates decreased from 6.08 percent to 3.56 percent in autonomous centers and from 13.81 percent to 10.17 percent for regular schools.
- Non-formal pre-school education was expanded to reach 100,000 children aged 4-6 (representing 57 percent of total preschool enrollment) in 2004. Net enrollment rates in preschool rose from 23 percent in 1997 to 31 percent in 2004.
- Net enrollment rate in grades 1 to 6 rose from 76 percent in 1996 to 91.2 percent in 2005. In the five municipalities targeted by the project, enrollment in grades 4-6 increased as a result of the scholarship program financed by the project that reached 8,000 children.
- 8,328 children in the very poor Atlantic Region - which contains the largest share of indigenous peoples in the country, gained access to preschool education, and learning materials were translated into three indigenous languages.
- The project also supported the consolidation of a national achievement testing system and an improved management information system, providing input for measuring quality and efficiency.
- The project was based on World Bank analytical work and on lessons learned during the implementation of an earlier IDA-supported operation, APRENDE I, where some of the essential design elements of this project were piloted (for example, the mechanism for ensuring school maintenance).
- Project experience in turn was incorporated in the Central America Education Strategy Paper that is informing education sector reforms and supporting World Bank operations throughout the region.
- IDA has also helped mobilize donor resources for Nicaragua. Local donor group recently approved a common work program for the education sector. Nicaragua has received a donation of US$7 million from the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative (EFA-AFI) catalytic fund and a further US$14 million are in the pipeline. Other donors, namely the European Union, Canada and Denmark have made budget support available for the sector through the common program.
- The total project cost was US$60 million, of which IDA provided US$53 million and the government US$7 million.
- The ongoing Education Project is bringing together donors and lenders to help the government of Nicaragua implement its National Education Policy, including the Education for All (EFA) goals.
As the quality of education in Nicaragua remains low, IDA will continue its work in the education sector, focusing in particular on improving learning quality. Programs initiated by the Second Basic Education project continue to expand coverage and improve quality at the preschool and primary level and were budgeted by the government for 2005, suggesting that sustainability is likely. A new IDA-supported education project (PASEN) was approved in September 2004, supporting the strengthening of the education system and including certain key activities (notably preschool education, evaluation, and management information system) supported under APRENDE.