Exactly one year ago, I undertook with my family the return to my beloved Argentina, after almost 16 years of living between the United States and Canada. I left without children, I returned with 3. And, like all parents, what worried me the most before moving was their insertion in the new life. A crucial component of this insertion: the school environment.
In my experience, the minimum standards, both in Canada and the United States, are very clear. A school without running water or electricity is suited to operate. All schools have water, electricity, ceilings, floors, functional walls and windows, air when it is hot, and heating in winter. Not counting multipurpose rooms, gyms and teacher rooms. One would think that these minimum levels of sufficiency are also met in our region. Unfortunately, it is not like that.
The difference we find with most of the countries in our region is notorious. We are still surprised to see in the newspapers too often that there are children and young people in our region who go to class in unfinished schools, with dirt floors and no roof. They take classes outdoors with more than 30 degrees of temperature, or that the roof drips when it rains, ruining their books and materials.
Data corroborates this: in an IDB study, that I wrote with my colleagues Jesús Duarte and Mariana Racimo, we found that an unacceptable proportion of children attend schools with inadequate infrastructure. And not only that, but school infrastructure resources are distributed unequally, and the most disadvantaged are children living in the poorest households and those living in rural areas.
For example, 40% of children in the region attend schools without sufficient levels of water and sanitation. That means they do not have any of these elements: drinking water, sewers, sewage systems, bathrooms in good condition or garbage collection. Something unthinkable for many of us, but sadly, is a reality for too many of our children.
If we only look at the poorest, the percentage rises to 75%. Inequality in access to adequate infrastructure is exacerbated when we look at the connection to electricity and telephone services: while 92% of the richest children have a sufficient connection, only 40% of the poorest children have it.
How can we pretend that these children learn? We can not ask them to concentrate all their potential on reading, solving math problems, doing science experiments, strengthening their instruction as good citizens if we do not even give them the bare minimum.
And how will we narrow the learning gaps and give everyone the same opportunities, regardless of the parent’s income level? Do we consider that a decent education? How can our criterion of sufficiency be so different from that of developed countries? How can we be part of the change?
As adults and people involved in the education sector, we have to ask ourselves these questions. It is our duty to give them an answer sooner rather than later. We need those responsible for our educational systems to rethink what is worthy, what is enough for our children and young people to learn.
Fortunately, my children have access to good teachers, good public schools that meet all the minimum standards, but I am very sorry not to be able to say the same for each and every one of the children of our region. How do we do it?
I invite you to visit our CIMA portal where you can find information about not only access to school infrastructure in the region but also multiple related topics that can facilitate dialogue to help us discern what is the minimum essential for our schools.
Entry by Florencia Jaureguiberry, consultant at the Education Division, Inter-American Development Bank