Preprimary & Primary Education
The educational system begins with the preschool or "kindergarten," most of which are located in cities rather than rural areas. The children, ranging in age from five to six years old, receive instruction for two years, three hours per day, and five days per week. Most of these schools are under government supervision, although there are private preschools. The main objectives are to prepare the children for entry into elementary school, to inculcate in them good work habits, and to develop oral and listening comprehension skills.
The school calendar runs from February to the end of October, five hours per day, Monday through Friday. Graduation takes place on November 5th. Elementary education begins at the age of seven and last for nine years. From the seventh grade, students receive classes in English as a second language as a part of the curriculum; it remains a requirement throughout the rest of their elementary school years. Curriculum stresses the teaching of formal Spanish grammar as well the fundamentals of science and mathematics, and six hours are devoted to sports and cultural activities.
Most primary schools are not coeducational. However, the majority of classes in grades seven to nine are mixed. Both men and women are teachers at this level. Student-teacher ratios are high in public schools. With an insufficient number of teachers, classrooms are over-crowded. In 1993, there were 3,961 primary schools with an enrollment of 1,042,256 primary students. In order to best utilize the buildings, there are two groups of students: one group attends in the morning from 7:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.; the other attends from 1:00-5:00 p.m. Some schools have adult evening classes from 7:00-9:00 p.m. Among school-age children, the total student enrollment in 1980 was 65 percent; in 1993, 70 percent; and by 1995 it had risen to 79 percent in public primary schools.
Only about 8 percent of the country's total enrollment in middle secondary education was rural children; the majority of the illiterate population reside in rural areas. The high degree of rural illiteracy reflects several factors, at the most basic level, the number of teachers and schools provided for rural areas. In the 1980s, only 15 percent of the nation's teachers served in rural areas, although these areas accounted for 64 percent of the primary schools. Of the primary schools available to rural children, approximately 70 percent offered education only below grade four or five. By contrast, 90 percent of the urban primary schools offered grade five and above.
There was a high attrition rate in school attendance in rural areas as students left school to earn wages or work at home. Although school attendance generally began at about the age of eight or nine, approximately 70 percent of all male workers began employment before the age of fifteen, many by age ten or earlier, thus permitting only one or two years of schooling. Many girls also dropped out of school at an early age in order to assume domestic responsibilities, such as caring for younger siblings, working in the fields, or tending animals. Therefore, only 20 percent of the rural school-age children reached grade six, and only a few percent reached grade nine. Efforts to improve this situation in the rural agricultural areas were somewhat discouraging, in part because of the political tension during the Civil War and post-war period. In some situations, teachers, mainly women, faced threats if they supported political change. Many rural landowners seemed to prefer an uneducated rural population on the grounds that better-educated workers would expect better wages and be more likely to organize and lobby the government for reform, particularly land reform.
In the 1960s, Educational Reform integrated the middle school into elementary education. Aimed at preparing students for the secondary level, the curriculum, different from grades seven to nine, consists of history, geography, mathematics or algebra, science, English, physics, computer programming (available only at private schools), sports and cultural activities. Students who pass gain the primary school certificate and are allowed to progress to secondary educational institutions.
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