Written by María Soledad Bos and Alison Elias
One of the most vivid memories that we have is going back to school at the beginning of every school year to find newly painted classrooms, desks, and blackboards. The library, the computer room, and the science labs all still had that “brand new” smell, ready for us to finally bring them to life. Unfortunately, every year, millions of students in Latin America and the Caribbean go back to school every year to find that their schools not only lack adequate facilities and equipment, but also the most basic services.
The Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (TERCE) was published by UNESCO last year and, besides providing information on learning levels, it also gives us an idea of the type and the conditions of the schools that Latin American students attend. In terms of access to the most basic services, TERCE found that a significant percentage of students lack access to water, electricity, and restrooms in good condition in their schools. For instance, more than 20% of students in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Panama attend a school in which they have no access to drinking water; around 18% of students in Honduras and 30% in Nicaragua go to a school that has no electricity; and in Nicaragua, only 50% of students have access to a restroom in good condition in their school.
Looking at academic spaces that can promote learning, such as libraries, science labs, and computer rooms, the outlook is not very encouraging. On average, only 23% of students in Latin America can access a science lab in their schools; around 60% of students in Ecuador, Panama, Guatemala, and Honduras do not have a library in their school; and more than 50% of students in Paraguay and Guatemala lack access to a computer at school. Moreover, less than 30% of students in Paraguay, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua can access the internet at their educational center.
Added to the lack of basic infrastructure and essential resources for learning, many school buildings are out of date, showing traditional designs and arrangements which do not provide adequate conditions for learning, such as natural light, ventilation, optimal temperature, and so on. On top of that, the effects of time, intensive use, and the lack of maintenance have led to the deterioration of school facilities across the region, becoming a factor that affects the motivation that students and teachers have to attend school.
A school’s physical infrastructure is the foundation upon which teaching and learning environments can be built. A review of recent literature on school infrastructure in Latin America reveals that the availability of basic furniture (such as desks and chairs), libraries, and classrooms with electricity, proper walls, roofs, and floors, has a positive effect on students’ learning. Therefore, it is essential that the region continues to invest to ensure that schools have access to basic services, and also to work in the renovation and construction of educational spaces that allow children and youth to learn and develop new skills.
If they are to improve the quality of their school infrastructure, countries in Latin America should have up-to-date and reliable information and data on the schools and their physical condition, allowing them to address specific needs in a more efficient way. Similarly, exchanging experiences across countries is of huge importance to create knowledge that can inform decision-making during the design, planning, construction and management of school infrastructure. In this regard, we would like to share two initiatives that are helping countries to overcome these challenges:
Since 2011, the IDB finances a regional project that brings together school infrastructure directors from Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago to discuss issues related to the architectural design, regulation, standards and costs of construction, planning, construction and maintenance models, as well as financing alternatives. The technical assistance, contribution, experience, and knowledge shared among this network of experts have truly enriched the work carried out region-wide in the field of school infrastructure.
Currently, many countries in the region lack an information system that centralizes available data on educational establishments and their physical condition, making it difficult to prioritize investments in the construction and repairing of schools.
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As this video (available in Spanish) shows, the CIER is a tool that facilitates the planning and management of investments in school infrastructure. More specifically, it is conceived as an open-license software through which Ministries of Education and other institutions working on school infrastructure can organize, quantify and systematize the inventory process of schools after they carry out appropriate surveys.
Over the next two years, the IDB will support countries like Barbados, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama to implement and adopt CIER. This tool will contribute to overcome the challenges associated with the lack of sufficient data and reliable data, allowing to monitor and evaluate the conditions and the evolution of school infrastructure and providing opportunities to formulate more focused investment plans.
We invite you to discover the innovative designs we have found in schools across the region and to keep an eye on our website to stay updated on the activities, resources, events and knowledge products affiliated to this project. We encourage you to share these contents and our commitment in improving school infrastructure so our children can have memories of learning, recess and friendships in high-quality spaces and environments.