5-year-old Karen attends the Guardabarranco School in Acoyapa, Nicaragua. Karen's school was recently constructed to resemble a castle and provide an environment conducive to learning for the youngest children.
Preschool children have never been so motivated and enthusiastic to go to school in Nicaragua. The newly constructed preschools, resembling the outside of a castle, combined with new learning materials and improved teacher training have created a stimulating atmosphere for children, teachers, directors, and parents alike.
These improvements have been possible thanks to a US$16.7 million GPE grant and other partners’ funding, which together support the education sector strategy program. Thanks to this program, 37 preschools with 56 classrooms have been built so far, undergoing a dramatic transformation, and becoming places where children can learn and flourish.
New infrastructure and materials boost enrollment
New and renovated school infrastructure follows a unique model that is being implemented in municipalities across the country with the goal of attracting more children to school. In Nicaragua, only 65% of children were enrolled in pre-primary programs in 2016 (MINED 2016).
All new preschools have been built to resemble castles so that children feel they are in a special environment.
Ergonomically adapted to preschool students, every detail of the new schools are meant to optimize learning. The new classrooms feature windows that are low enough so students can have a direct view of the external environment. In older buildings, the windows were small and high, limiting natural light and ventilation. The soft colors on the wall make the space more comfortable and calming to children’s eyes, and internal folding doors allow several classes to happen simultaneously.
Alongside the new preschool buildings, complimentary facilities include child-friendly toilets and wash facilities, recreational areas and security features (including walls and fences).
Now classrooms provide a vibrant environment, and are filled with new learning materials. Colorful bookcases display a wide variety of toys, educational games and books that children can easily grab. Several drawings and cutouts decorate the walls; basic materials including crayons, play dough, watercolors and markers are available to promote children’s learning. To date, the GPE program has distributed learning materials for 53,938 preschool students.
This is a huge improvement as preschool classes used to be held in an unconducive learning environment. Students didn’t have their own classroom space, educational materials, or appropriate facilities. Teachers also had to improvise when conducting learning activities because of the lack of appropriate materials.
Milagros del Carmen Duarte, preschool teacher at the Guardabarranco School located in Acoyapa, is one of the beneficiaries of the program. She said that in the past, educational materials were consistently lacking in the classroom, and she had to improvise. From time to time she would ask her students to bring small stones or seeds from home to be used as learning tools to count or play.
Teacher training programs make teaching more effective
Such a unique change in the building design has led to a motivated student body, allowing for teachers to provide better quality learning. The education sector strategy program has trained 6,790 teachers, community educators and educational advisors.
The new teacher training program was an enriching experience for preschool teachers. Since taking the training, teachers have reported a newfound sense of confidence and a better understanding of how to connect with students. The training has also created a space for teachers to exchange ideas on best practices.
All these improvements have led to an increase in student enrollment and retention rates.
Melvin Antonio, the director of the Fray Bartolome de las Casas School, in Matagalpa, notes that thanks to the new infrastructure student enrollment in his preschool has increased by 20% in 2017 compared to the previous school year.
Furthermore, the improvements have increased children’s motivation to go to school as many of them used to be late for class, sometimes by more than an hour. Now students are eager to be on time and can’t wait to come back the following day to their “castillito”, or little castle, as they call their school.
Parents and communities get more involved in schools
Parents have also been positively impacted by the new school improvements. They notice how motivated their children have become, and as a result they are now more involved in their child’s learning. Some of them have joined the parents’ association and help maintain the school building by cleaning the preschool or preparing the afternoon snack. Some parents even said they wished they were children again so they could attend the newly built schools.
Investing in early childhood education is a priority for the government of Nicaragua, which aims to ensure that all children have access to quality early childhood education.
When interviewed, David Otero, Director of Policy and Planning, Ministry of Education, Nicaragua, said:
“In Nicaragua, we know that 3-5 year old children who have developed a series of emotional, affective, cognitive, and psychosocial aspects will have the physiological, biological, psychological basis (…) for their academic future and even their personal development, and will not have any difficulties to carry out their life ambitions.”
This is echoed by Daysi Cordero, Director of Preschools, Ministry of Education, Nicaragua:
“If you are going to build a house and you don’t have a strong foundation, it is going to fall. That’s early childhood education: the foundation (…) Investing in early childhood education is a great return on investment as we avoid school repetition and school failure.”
The education sector strategy program has played a key role in improving access and quality of preschool education in Nicaragua. In addition to building schools and distributing learning materials, it has also certified 2,321 community and formal teachers, as well as elaborated the conceptual and methodological framework of the monitoring and evaluation system.
GPE looks forward to continuing its support to Nicaragua to ensure that all children have access to a quality education.