Nicaragua’s public education system—already the most underfunded and underperforming in Central America—will maintain its worst-in-class performance record in 2013, thanks to another paltry budget designation by the National Assembly, critics say.
The ruling Sandinista Front doesn’t see it that way.
The governing party is celebrating the amount of money designated for “social spending” next year, noting that the combined amount designated on health, education, the army and police totals nearly 49% of the $1.9 billion budget—the smallest in Central America. The Sandinistas say education and health will receive around $33 million more in next year’s budget, which was approved in congress yesterday.
“This is a budget that, despite our economic limitations, we are investing more and better in social spending,” said Sandinista lawmaker Wálmaro Gutiérrez, president of the economic and budget commission. Gutiérrez told official media that public spending has increased by 38.7% since 2007, despite the international economic crisis.
The opposition, however, says more needs to be done to improve education. Opposition congressman Eliseo Núñez qualified the budget as “neoliberal” and in strict compliance with IMF structural adjustments. He said his minority legislative voting bloc is concerned that there is no long-term vision or funding for education.
“We are worried about this because the country should have a state policy to increase education spending over the next years to take advantage of the demographic window,” Núñez said.
Education experts say the situation is worsening rather than improving as advertised.
“It’s lamentable that there is no awareness about the importance of education to the country’s integral development,” says Carlos Tünnermann, a former minister of education and former member UNESCO Director-General’s Advisory Group for Higher Education in Latin America.
“The official party says there is more spending for education, but there has to be more simply because there are more students and more costs for education materials. In terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the spending on education has decreased,” Tünnermann told The Nicaragua Dispatch.
In 2012, education spending represented 3.4% of Nicaragua’s GDP—well below the regional average. Next year, that amount will be shaved even more, to 2.8%, according to Tünnermann.
In comparison, the professor notes, Costa Rica and Honduras are spending 7% of the GDP’s on education, Panama spends over 5% and El Salvador and Guatemala investment more than 4.5% on their schools. Nicaragua, meanwhile, is heading in the other direction.
“Nicaragua is way behind,” Tünnermann says. “And next year there will be even less spending for preschools and teacher education.”
Teachers’ salaries will also remain offensively inadequate. Tünnermann says the ruling party is boasting a salary increase of 400 cordobas, but says that’s not even half of what’s needed just to keep up with the rising cost of living.
“In real terms, teachers will be making less because their purchasing power is diminishing,” Tünnermann says. He says a teacher in Nicaragua only makes 25% of what a teacher makes in Costa Rica, and 20% less than the average Central American teacher who earns only $500 a month.
“All this means that education is not a priority for the government, even though they like to talk about the rights of youth,” Tünnermann charges. “The government is only interested in manipulating youth—taking them out of class to go watch Spanish-league soccer games at the virtual stadiums or pulling them from class to go to political activities. They are only interested in using students to listen to and applaud the president.”