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Situation Analysis

Over half of Guatemala's population lives in a state of poverty or extreme poverty. Average schooling is only four years. Youth are coming of age under very difficult conditions such as high levels of unemployment, social and economic marginalization, rapid and uncontrolled urbanization, and increasing crime rates.

The Guatemala National Institute of Statistics reports that nearly half of the population is under 18 years old and 20 percent of the population is between 15 and 29 years old.  Twenty-five languages are spoken in Guatemala: Spanish, Garífuna, Xinca, and 22 Mayan languages.

Guatemala has made significant progress in improving education coverage for children and youth since the end of the civil war in December 1996. Almost every child is enrolled in primary school (96 percent), a change that is largely due to increased access to education in rural areas. Still, Guatemala has the lowest primary school completion rate in Central America, and education indicators continue to lag far behind nearly every other country in the hemisphere. For every 10 children who enter the school system, only four graduate from primary school, only one completes lower secondary school, and only 8.5 percent of youth pursue a university education. These and other low indicators are largely due to deficiencies in education quality related to poor teacher training, a lack of pertinent learning methodologies for rural and indigenous children, and insufficient financial, material and technical resources.

The public financing required to address Guatemala’s education needs is substantial. Government education expenditures in 2007 still amounted to only 2.8 percent of GDP.  

USAID's Response

To address these development challenges, USAID is investing in basic education that translates into eventual improvements in employment, incomes and moving out of poverty, and into productive livelihoods for families, particularly those residing in rural Guatemala. USAID’s work in basic education complements support to youth-focused programs in education, training and employment, and job creation.

USAID supports the long-term goal of increasing equitable access to quality education, with special focus on reducing gender disparities and historic inequalities between indigenous and non-indigenous rural populations. To achieve this goal, USAID works with stakeholders to foster awareness and political will to reform and strengthen the national education system and improve national and local investments in education.

Technical assistance is provided to establish appropriate roles for the public and private sectors in education service delivery and financing. USAID is making critical contributions to the social policy analysis environment in Guatemala by introducing new information technology platforms to help Ministry of Education officials make decisions. USAID investments in higher education center on providing post-secondary and university education for underserved populations, particularly women, rural and indigenous.

The goals for 2014 include increasing primary education completion rates by 20 percent (from 39 percent in 1997 to 48 percent); increasing lower secondary net enrollment by 30 percent (from 33 percent to 43 percent); improving internal efficiency to reduce the percent of the primary budget spent on dropouts, repetition, and non-promotion by 20 percent (from 35 percent to 28 percent); and improvements in quality and accountability reflected in increased student learning. 

Principal Results and Accomplishments

USAID strategies to increase and improve social investment have placed Guatemala closer to international benchmarks on key social statistics, including girls’ primary education completion rates and percentage of GDP dedicated to education. With USAID assistance, the Ministry of Education has garnered acceptance by education communities for K-9 national education content standards. An innovative assessment system for entry-level teachers was developed using standardized testing in Spanish and nine Mayan languages to hire and place teachers. The Ministry of Education addressed its need for greater transparency and efficiency, which culminated with international certification of the ministry’s management system in 2007, the first public institution in Guatemala to qualify for the standard. 

With the incorporation of new planning tools and an integrated information platform, the Ministry of Education addressed the need for improved information management, transparency, and efficiency. The online information system now integrates education, health, finance and population data, and is being used to make decisions about the national social sector. The ministry has continued the international re-certification of its management system with USAID assistance.

USAID supported several strategic studies in education that provide information to advocate for more and better investment in public education. Studies include the landmark Municipal Education Progress Index that provides information for innovative municipal education spending, budget analysis and classification; analysis of power and decision making for investment in education at the local level; analysis of the Ministry of Education budget; institutional and legal limits to investment in education; and monitoring of education reform in sentinel schools.

USAID helped the Ministry of Education conduct a national multi-sector study to identify basic life competencies that Guatemalans believe students graduating from the 9th and 12th grades need to be competitive in the labor market. Skills found to be indispensable include technical knowledge of health and the sciences, linguistic competencies (Spanish, English, and Mayan languages), oral and written communication skills, mathematics, teamwork and interpersonal skills, critical thinking and problem-solving, positive self-concept and confidence, and individual initiative.

USAID’s partnerships with the corporate sector have resulted in over 51,825 scholarships, outreach programs to strengthen basic education skills for at least 300 at-risk youth, and over $10 million leveraged for education, health and nutrition activities.

Principal Current Implementing Partners:

Program Partner

Implementation Partner

Multisector Alliances

Research Triangle Institute (RTI)

Dialogue for Social Sector Investment in Guatemala

Academy for Educational Development (AED)

Education Reform in the Classroom

Juarez & Associates


Last updated: July 03, 2014

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