By 2013, El Salvador had increased its coverage of 0-3 year olds from 0.59% of the population to 1.6%, and its 4-6 year old coverage from 43.2% to 64.6%. These increases have been fueled by budget expenditures that have brought the education budget as a percentage of GDP from a low of 2.62% in 2007 to 3.47% in 2016. The current government has promised to reach the suggested benchmark of 6% of GDP by 2019– but this is an unlikely achievement given the slow advances made to date.
These budgetary increases would be essential in improving coverage for both early education and high school students. The UNDP estimated in 2013 that in order to achieve universal coverage, El Salvador would need to make an investment of over 800 million dollars in infrastructure alone, as well as double the budget for teachers’ salaries. This would provide access to the 60% of the high school age population that is currently excluded from the educational system, as well as fill in smaller gaps in primary education and the gaping holes in early childhood education.
Unfortunately, El Salvador faces other challenges to keeping kids in school. In 2014, 68 students a day dropped out during the school year due to the threat of violence. This is often the result of gang territoriality, gang recruitment in schools, or unsafe conditions to get to and from the school from a student’s home.
The families at the Child Development Center we work with have faced these issues, depending on where they live in relation to the Center and which gang has control of that neighborhood. Women in our Empowerment project have also commented on the difficulty of keeping their older children in school due to the negative influences to which they are exposed, while other mothers find it difficult to participate or grow their business because they must accompany their children to and from school, and refuse to leave them unattended.
While ultimately the government must be the one to make the investments in education that will move the country toward universal coverage, Programa Velasco is proud to support early childhood education for families that would otherwise have no options for this type of support. Investing in these children with a values-based education while they are young will go a long way toward improving the other problems that plague El Salvador and complicate development for all.