Saturday, March 2, 2013

Guatemala’s Educational Reform Highly Politicized and Emotionally Charged: Is it Time for Pérez to Change Its Course?

            When Guatemala’s president, Otto Pérez Molina took office on January 14, 2012, his vision of change for the education system in a country of over 11 million people, was firmly rooted in a far-reaching plan that embraced notions of economic globalism. He wanted a fearless Minister of Education that shared his passion for an “all or nothing” educational reform that would catapult the country into the international global arena, and he’d receive the accolades from world leaders for his efforts in transforming Guatemala. He found the person in Cynthia del Aguila, educated in the United States, a former professor at Guatemala’s private la Universidad del Valle, and in her early career had held different positions at the Ministry of Education in Guatemala. At the time that del Aguila was appointed she was employed with the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International based in North Carolina in the United States and had worked there for seven years as an educational manager. At RTI, her main responsibility was with a United States agency called Allianzas, which was devoted to forging partnerships with the private sectors in Guatemala. In del Aguila’s reform plan the solution was quite simple: eliminate the Magisterio, the current training college system consisting of Escuelas Normales, and students (called normalistas) will have to attend the private universities, thus creating governmental partnerships with private institutions of higher learning. But students, parents, community leaders, and supporters have steadfastly repudiated the reform agenda, and for almost 12 months after del Aguila unveiled the plan they have organized and participated in non-violent protests, sit-ins inside and outside facilities, marches, rallies, and used the social media to their advantage.  Police have used tear gas and arrested protesting students. The embattled del Aguila refuses to concede defeat for doing so may cost her the job as Minister of Education.

Acción de Amparo

            On February 25th, the latest legal action taken against the Ministry of Education, called the Acción de Amparo, was submitted by the Consejo Nacional Permanente de la Reforma Educativa, the social leadership organization representing the Magisterio. In this document, the Consejo asks the court for a legal proceeding that will order MINEDUC not to eliminate the Magisterio. (See Prensa Libre,  Otro amparo).  The document (Acción de Amaparo) makes reference to the key role of the Consejo Nacional in the decision-making process as stipulated in Article 12 of the Ley de Educación Nacional (Ley de Educación Nacional), and that MINEDUC overstepped its authority, a violation of human rights, when it disregarded the required proceedings and approval of the reform plan by the Consejo. The Corte Suprema  de Justicia must decide on the Acción, whether to halt or allow the reform to continue as initiated by the MINEDUC, although the MINEDUC can appeal the decision against it. This was the case the first time the Acción de Amparo was submitted against MINEDUC in November of 2012.
            The Corte Suprema de Justicia granted approval for the first temporary Acción de Amparo but as reported on November 27th by Prensa Libre (27 de noviembre) del Aguila announced that the Ministry would appeal the court’s decision. Del Aguila’s comments alluded to the claim that since the previous agreement on the magisterial teaching careers had expired in 2011, the MINEDUC had followed appropriate steps to include a process of feedback and input from the institutes and colleges on the new program for teacher training. Del Aguila emphasized that the MINEDUC has every authority to make decisions on how to train teachers as well dispense decisions regarding the careers of teachers. Furthermore, she added that it is the MINEDUC’s responsibility to renew programs that have expired under its authority.
            But less than two weeks later, in response to an appeal filed by MINEDUC the Corte Suprema de Justicia reversed its decision, revoking the Amparo on the basis that it lacked sufficient substance. Speculation was raised on whether the MINEDUC’s move to enter a counter legal action in case it lost its appeal was influential in the Corte’s decision to overturn the Acción. (See Prensa Libre, Amparo revoked.)

The MINEDUC maintains its authority as the supreme entity that has the sole responsibility and right to make decisions on which reform plan to institute without regard to the democratic participation of stakeholders, even when such inclusion is stipulated in national proclamations. Pérez Molina has not publicly commented on del Aguila’s hard line posturing of MINEDUC’s authority. His silence may well be interpreted as an unequivocal approval of his appointed Minister of Education.

Charges of Racism and Discrimination

While MINEDUC maintains its course toward full implementation of the reform agenda, communities such as the Pueblo Xinka have charged the Ministry with racism and discrimination. (See Pueblos Xinkas.) The Pueblo Xinka consists of 400,000 people from three departamentos (states) in southwestern region of Guatemala bordering El Salvador. The parliamentary board of Xinka has formally complained that their requests to the MINEDUC for teaching positions in their Xinka/Spanish Bilingual Intercultural Education program have been ignored. They have waited for a response since 2011, despite the fact that since its initial start four years ago, 60 bilingual students from the Escuelas Normales have successfully completed their training and 300 more normalistas are enrolled in the program.  They claim that their educational rights as a Pueblo inherent in the national proclamations including the constitution protect their language and culture in the school curriculum.  The fact that MINEDUC has refused to support them is an affirmation of the agency’s deliberate negation of their rights. MINEDUC’s proposed reform agenda would eliminate the Escuelas Normales that have educated the students like those in the Pueblo Xinka, and accordingly, eliminate or reduce the quality of Bilingual Intercultural Education programs.

Decreased Funding Formula and Decentralization

If del Aguila’s plan for decentralization of educational funds is implemented as her announcement has declared, schools will be in total control of their spending for all of their educational needs. (See Prensa Libre, Decentralized formula funding.) In light of the decreased funding formula for primary education, this strategy will cause friction amongst school communities, especially in small pueblos and rural areas that have scarce resources.  Both the decentralization in the funding formula and the MINEDUC’s reform agenda may result in a chaotic landscape of communities fending for their specific educational needs and while some may succeed, those with less funding and other resources will certainly lose.


From the outset, del Aguila was determined to accomplish a task for which she had been especially selected. Indeed, overhauling the country’s educational system is akin to rebuilding a county from the ground up. Whether she or Perez Molina knew what was at stake and that the complexity of the task would produce a Pandora’s box is difficult to analyze without firsthand knowledge. But, what is clear is that del Aguila didn’t launch a leadership agenda; her priority was and continues to be a task-fulfilling role rather than assuming a leadership in the Ministry of Education. A leader understands fundamentally the role of education in every aspect of society. Experience, perception, insight, and knowledge – all are essential in a leader, but the people of Guatemala want someone they can connect with and that can inspire them. Pérez Molina has to assess whether he has chosen the right kind of leader to take charge of probably the most important and challenging social issue of his presidency.



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