Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Education as Social Emancipation

"Education as Social Emancipation." That's the phrase from the Ley Visión de País y Plan de Nación that is used to justify the Ley de incentivo a la participación comunitaria para el mejoramiento de calidad educativa. This is the law, being debated by the National Congress, that is part of the reason the teachers unions are out on strike. So let's examine this law.

The law is guided by two guiding principles from the Plan de la Nación, "citizen participation in government as a generator of governability", and "decentralization of efforts and decisions related to development." These two principles directly derive from the Organización de Demócrata Cristiana de América's (ODCA) guiding planning document, El Nuevo Centro Humanista y Reformista, which we wrote about earlier this month.

Article 1 tells us the motivation is to promote participation by the family and local community in improving the quality of education, and then defines the measures of improvement: complying with the academic calendar (number of days of classes), improved student performance (in some undefined way), fewer dropouts, and less grade repetition.

Article 2 also deals with the objectives of the law, but in this case, the practical objectives. It allows parents to be part of the committee that designs the Proyecto Educativo del Centro (PEC) which is the ideal set of goals that guide education in the center. It establishes two oversight committees, the Consejo Municipal de Desarrollo Educativo (COMDE) and the Consejo Escolar de Desarrollo.

The municipal level council, COMDE, has as its purpose the "social oversight of the effective teaching of the teacher in the classroom", the fulfillment of the academic calendar, and meeting the educational goals set in the municipality in conformity with the national education goals. It is responsible for the financial auditing of all of its schools. Article 5 sets the composition of the committee of eight members, appointed by the municipal government. Article 6 sets a series of specific goals and tasks for the committee. Article 7 says that COMDE has to coordinate with the Consejos Regionales de Desarrollo (regional development committees). The COMDE is responsible for making education sustainable, whatever that means.

The Consejo Escolar de Desarrollo is at the school level and is designed to promote community participation among the different actors surrounding the school. Article 8 describes the composition of this seven member committee. These groups participate in the institutional PEC, support the teachers, have oversight responsibility for the use of funds and take attendance of all school staff, and to report back to the local COMDE.

In turn, the government will offer the communities the following incentives: financial resources assigned by the central government to the Minister of Education, from there assigned to the schools through the school's Consejo Escolar; learning aids such as equipment, computers, internet connections, etc. to improve the quality of education; and recognition by the Minister of Education.

Article 13 tells the municipalities to assign resources to COMDE and the Consejos Escolares through their development committee. Article 14 says that Congress will assign, each year, a budget to provide the educational incentives to the best schools, the ones that meet or exceed their goals to provide incentives for the municipalities.

Article 14 will have an effect of preserving the status quo. Good public schools in rich communities will continue to receive the most, because they will be able to do the most, and have the lowest dropout rates, best performing students, etc. Poor schools in poor communities will get next to nothing under this system.

This law has been presented by the government as essentially giving the municipality a block grant for them to staff schools, buy educational material, and pursue their own education goals. Teachers have claimed that it will allow for the privatization of schools. The rhetoric from both sides, the government and the teachers, doesn't match what the law says, so its hard to say who is right here.

There are no funding statements in this law, apart from the requirement that Congress fund the educational incentives. There is no statement about how municipalities will fund the work of these committees, which is considerable, other than the requirement that they appropriate funds in their development budget for this purpose. In the US, this would be called an unfunded mandate. The law also does not appear to give local control over the hiring and firing of teachers.

What this law does do is transfer the auditing and accountability functions previously held by the central government and the Ministry of Education, to the municipalities, without proposing to fund them to do it. It has a little sugar in the form of education incentives, but the article structuring their award seems to preserve the status quo, with rich schools in the best position to reap these rewards. It provides the spectre of more local control over education while politicizing that control by putting the composition of the committees in the hands of the local government.

Juan Orlando Hernandez met with representatives of the Associacion de Municipios de Honduras Monday to explain the law. He said there will be an open meeting with all of the 298 municipal governments on April 2 to explain the law. At this Monday meeting he professed not to understand why the teachers are opposed to this law since it guarantees they get paid. One of the many problems with the current Ministry of Education is that it either fails to pay teachers or pays them three months in arrears.

This law should make municipal governments nervous.

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