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El Salvador

History & Background

The republic of El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, with a total area of 21,041 square kilometers (8,124.59 mi.). It is bounded on the northwest by Guatemala, on the north and east by Honduras, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. The local government is divided into 14 departments and 262 municipalities including cities, towns, and villages. The capital is San Salvador. The median age in the country declined from nineteen in 1950 to seventeen in 1975, and 41.3 percent were projected to be under the age of fifteen by 2001. The population for the year 2000 was 5.5 million. El Salvador is not only Central America's smallest country, but it is also the most densely populated country in the Western Hemisphere, with an average population of approximately 298 people per square kilometer. Most of the land is devoted to agriculture and the population is concentrated in industrial and agricultural areas centered on San Salvador, which attracts people on account of better job opportunities and higher salaries. The population is divided into: Mestizo 90 percent; Indigenous 50 percent; and European descendants 5 percent.

Spanish is the national language. The daily use of Indigenous languages has faded out. There has been some academic interest in preserving the old Nahua language of the Pipils, but Nahua is not spoken in the street, except in a few Indian villages in Morazán and Chalatenango. El Salvador is predominantly Roman Catholic, but a number of other churches are also represented.

Cuscatlán, the original name of El Salvador, dates to as early as 2000 B.C. The Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century. El Salvador was dominated by the Pipils, who were descendants of Nahua and Aztec (two Mexican tribes). The Pipils came to central El Salvador in the eleventh century. In 1540, Pedro de Alvarado conquered Cuscatlán and the region came under Spanish control. It was designated a province of Nueva España and placed under the direct control of the Capitanía General de Guatemala.

The Dominican order arrived first to the Provincia de San Salvador, later the Franciscans, and later still the Mercenary Orders. Churches and convents created by faith and the commitment of the religious orders were founded in the sixteenth century. Their prosperity was concentrated on agricultural labor and the teaching of arts and informal skills. It was during this period that the first public library, school, and university were created.

Education during this period began with the convent schools. The convents in the Provincia de San Salvador were more modest than those in the Capitanía General de Guatemala, but they used the same methods and educational tendencies. The frailes received from the Indigenous people a series of histories, chronicles, and historical narratives that have disappeared because of fires or earthquakes. During the Colonial period the schools were only for the Spanish children. The Indigenous received instruction, but this was limited to the teaching of Catholicism in their native languages. Later this instruction was improved, but in the classroom they were never recognized as being in the same category as the white students.

The first school was founded in 1548 by Lic. Francisco Marroquín. From the beginning, the education of the male was more important than that of the female; her instruction was considered not only less important, but dangerous. Although many women from privileged families enjoyed better conditions, colonial women's lives were mainly committed to difficult and inferior jobs. The convents began the liberation of women. For the first time in their history, women received instruction in reading, writing, and in improving their minds along Christian precepts. An example of women educated during this period are: Juana de Maldonado, Juana de Arévalo, Ana Guerra de Jesus, Catarina de Jesus, Isabel de Bustamante y Naba, María Ana de León, Lucía Villacorta de Cañas, Josefa de Barahona, Antonia Fagoaga y Aguilar, Felipa de Aranzamendi, and Manuela Antonia de Arce.

Independence from Spain came on September 15, 1821. On July 1, 1823, El Salvador joined Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica to form the Provincias Unidas de Centro América. However, regional and ideological conflicts beset the union, which was finally dissolved in 1840. In the following year, El Salvador adopted a constitution as a sovereign independent nation. The republic was formally proclaimed on January 25, 1859.

Turbulence, political instability, and frequent presidential changes characterized Salvadoran history during the second half of the nineteenth century. The land had been settled in large landholdings. The Indigenous were pushed off their land or ejidos (community land) and were forced to work on the Spanish plantations for miserable wages or no wages at all. Anastasio Aquino, chief of Nonualcos, led an unsuccessful Indigenous rebellion in 1833 with the idea that "Land is for those who work it." A hundred years later, Feliciano Ama, the last chief of Nonualcos, led another rebellion called La Matanza (The Massacre).

Relative stability was evident in the area of education from 1900 to 1942, but so was turmoil. The dictatorship of Gral. Maximiliano Hernández Martínez brought a period of constant military rule for almost 13 years. During this period, 95 percent of El Salvador's income came from coffee exports. Union activity in the industrial sector during the 1920s brought strikes and demands for better wages, but when coffee prices plummeted following the stock market crash of 1929 the situation between union workers and the landowners became unbearable. Landowners, no longer tolerating union activities, incited the government to take action. In January 1932, Agustin Farabundo Marti, the founder of the Central American Socialist Party, led an uprising of peasants and the Indigenous people. Under Hernández Martínez, the military responded by systematically killing 30,000 people. Farabundo Martí and other leaders were arrested and executed by firing squad. Martí's name is preserved in the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).

In the 1960s, Colonel Julio Adalberto Rivera became president, creating a favorable political environment for constitutional reform, the creation of the Common Central American Market, improved civil rights organizations for workers (including teachers), and a new educational system. The minister of education was Walter Beneke, who was responsible for the Educational Reform. For the first time, televised instruction was used in the classroom. Students throughout the country were able to obtain the same instruction for the entire curriculum. Originally, this system was overseen by experts in this pedagogical technology, but by 1972 this system was increasingly run by native personnel. General student ability and reading scores increased, although there was little difference between television and non-television classes. Behavioral objectives were introduced and students showed increased skills in analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

The students under this program were enthusiastic, but teacher enthusiasm waned somewhat after the initial uncritical acceptance. Teacher attitudes toward their profession as a whole and its attendant problems remained poor. Student aspirations became increasingly high, perhaps unrealistically so, but educational reform was working, as evidenced by the percentage of students going on to higher education. At the same time, Liberation Theology created an environment for preference to the poor. The social conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s cannot be explained plausibly just by population density and the socio-political balance between town and country, since the education of the masses played a significant role. Rural unions, which often originated from the cooperatives and communal associations sponsored by the church, posed little ostensible threat to the established order. That is, until the rural unions' support of the Preferential Option for the Poor brought about a rise in violence.

The era of Popular Education occurred in 1980-1992. The Civil War affected the mental health of children who were born and raised during the twelve years of the war, and exposed them to different levels of violence. Children from industrial neighborhoods who came from displaced villages reported higher war experiences and lower mental health, while children who experienced the highest personal-social effects of the war showed the poorest mental health and they were most likely to have difficulty in imagining the future. Popular education focused on children and women and their potential for societal change, and proved to be particularly relevant for women. By using popular education, the insurgent movement sought to fill the education gap created because most combatants and civilians were peasants, few of who had much opportunity for schooling in the communities where they grew up. The most sustained experiences of popular education occurred in FMLN-controlled zones of the country. Popular education was as much a political and organizational process as an educational process. The focus of the Christian-based communities was to work toward their conception of social justice and political change. Its work can be summarized as: Christian-based communities in the 1970s; refugee camps on the Honduran border in the 1980s; and repopulated communities in FMLN-controlled zones from 1980 to 1992.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceEl Salvador - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education - TEACHING PROFESSION