Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Honduras for the first time. The objective was to obtain firsthand information on the progress that has been achieved in the education sector and to understand the country’s challenges.
In recognition that education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty, and a vital element for the its development, Honduras has adopted a series of laws promoting quality and equitable education.
However, despite allocating significant resources to education (19.2% of the country’s budget in 2013), Honduras has some of the lowest indicators in learning outcomes when compared to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In Honduras, under-development, insecurity, and education are closely linked. The prevalence of gang violence, the so-called Maras, who specialize in drug trafficking, kidnappings, killings, and extortion, infringe on the right of children and adolescents to a quality education. The gangs’ behavior restricts or prevents school attendance. Additionally, the widespread violence combined with a lack of opportunity has resulted in the forced displacement of families, which in turn increases the number of children abandoning school.
A new strategy to fight against violence
Promoted by the Presidency and National Education Council as the “new face in the fight against violence,” the new 2017-2030 education sector plan uses education as a building block to reduce violence. It aims to achieve quality, equitable, and inclusive education for all. The implementation of the plan is expected to be initiated in the coming months.
Development of the sector plan didn’t come without challenges. One of the major issues was to ensure broad participation from education partners during the entire process. To generate a successful plan, the numerous individual agendas and priorities had to be aligned.
Furthermore, Honduras has a history of short-term and relatively fragmented organization of the education sector. Therefore, it was necessary to ensure a unified commitment by all the actors to adhere to a long-term plan. The final hurdle was to objectively assess Honduras’ strengths and weaknesses through a comprehensive analysis of the education sector, and generate an honest self-evaluation.
I was pleased to see that the US$500,000 plan development grant allocated by GPE helped conduct a comprehensive and evidence-based education sector analysis that has led to encouraging milestones - a strong policy dialogue, several consultations involving a large variety of education partners and the new 2017-2030 education sector plan.
It was also encouraging to see how the process underlying the development of the new education sector plan has strengthened the collaboration and dialogue between partners as well as promoted transparency, accountability and consensus. As a result of this inclusive approach, the partners have committed to work together as a unified system instead of in silos.
Education is key to develop a better Honduras
While in Tegucigalpa, I had the opportunity to have a fruitful exchange with President Juan Orlando Hernández, Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro, Minister of Government Coordination, Rutilia Calderón, Minister of Education, and other government officials, as well the donor group, representatives from civil society, teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders.
During these meetings, there was consensus from all that education is key in supporting the overall development of communities and ensure growth and prosperity for the country. To reach this goal, all were in agreement that education must be addressed in a more focused way through a system-wide approach.
All partners agreed to focus on three major challenges during the coming years: strengthening sector governance through a stronger National Education Council and an overall decentralized system; increasing education financing through a combination of public and private investment, as well as enhanced alignment of development aid for the sector; and building the operational plans, which will be implemented by the education sector institutions over the next five years.
Improving education with the help of the local community
My trip to Honduras included a visit the Tim Hines School, located in a community affected by violence and insecurity. I had the opportunity to talk to the school director, the representatives of the parents’ group, teachers, and students about the school’s current situation along with their aspirations and the challenges the community faces.
I was inspired by the active role the community plays to ensure children study in an environment that fosters their engagement and enthusiasm. I was particularly struck by the creativity and resourcefulness of Carmen Ramírez, the school director, which maximized the use of every square inch of the school for learning and enriching the lives of the children attending the school.
These efforts are bearing fruit as evidenced in two indicators: the school’s enrollment has gone up from 80 students in 2007 to 400 this year, and the school boasts an extremely low dropout rate - contrary to common trends in Honduras.
A promising future
I was pleased to learn how the GPE’s partnership model has helped Honduras reinstate a dialogue between education partners, build inclusive ownership of education sector reforms, and support the development of the new education sector plan, the key element for moving the sector forward.
There are many reasons for optimism regarding the future of Honduras’ education sector. I am convinced that the strong leadership by the government, the dedication and support of national and international partners, and the new road map will help this country strengthen its education system for all children.
I left Honduras convinced that it has the necessary tools to make significant improvements in education. In the meantime, GPE will be ready to provide support as needed, together with in-country and international partners.
The replenishment of our fund at the GPE Financing Conference in early 2018 will help us continue to provide the critical support that countries like Honduras need to strengthen their education systems.