Quality Education from an Early Age
A 2011 diagnostic study found that despite gains in access to education, Honduras still faced challenges in terms of the quality, efficiency, and equity of its educational system. The evaluation showed that many students did not attain the knowledge and skills expected of them: 20 percent of students had to repeat the first grade, and during the first three years of primary school 10 percent of students were either left back or dropped out.
To address the problem, the government of Honduras worked with the IDB to design the Primary Education and Technology Integration Program. The program, financed by a US$37 million sovereign guaranteed (SG) loan aimed to improve learning by children in preschools and primary schools that serve the very poor. The initiative sought to expand access to primary education, provide educational materials and training for teachers, and introduce technologies such as laptop computers and network connections.
As argued in the 2015 edition of the IDB’s study Development in the Americas on The Early Years: Child Well-Being and the Role of Public Policy, preschool is a critical tool for preparing children and improving their chances for success in primary school. Pre-school is essential for child development because it develops cognitive, motor, memory, and social skills. To ensure that the program benefited children most in need, it targeted families in rural communities who are beneficiaries of Honduras’ conditional cash transfer program known as Bono Vida Mejor.
This program established 624 community preschool education centers, furnishing them and providing educational materials and stipends for volunteer teachers. Teachers also received training in a guided learning method known as “Play and Learn.”
By the time the project had ended, in 2014, 5,128 Honduran children from poor families had benefited from the new preschool education centers. As a result, the children were better prepared to face the challenges of entering primary school. An evaluation of students who received the preschool training during the first year of the project found that repetition rates for first grade declined by 7 percent, surpassing the program goal of 4 percent.
Ambitious development initiatives such as the Primary Education and Technology Integration Program are not immune from challenges. Focusing on poor rural communities entailed certain difficulties for implementation. Many of the communities are difficult to access and have dispersed populations which complicated getting the minimum number of students required to establish a new preschool. In addition, the lack of fiscal resources to cover teacher salaries caused some desertion by teachers and reduced students’ exposure to teachers who had been trained.
Despite these difficulties, an impact evaluation conducted by the Bank showed the positive effects of the program. Children who received a preschool education advanced in indicators such as motor skills, recognizing forms and figures, and expressing emotions by an average equivalent of one year compared with students who did not attend preschool. The gains for these students in those key variables of early childhood development demonstrate the benefits of receiving a quality education from an early age.
Continue reading Chapter 2 - Social Policy for Equity and Productivity