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Situation Analysis

Today, primary school enrollment rates in Guatemala are almost 100% and there is nearly equal enrollment of boys and girls.  First grade completion rates have increased dramatically (by 18%) in the last four years as a result of the implementation of several quality education policies and programs.  Still, more than 30% of students did not pass first grade in 2013.  In addition, only about three-fourths of those enrolled in primary school graduate from 6th grade (80% of boys and 73% of girls), and the enrollment rate for middle school (7th-9th grades) is less than 40%.

Education quality is also a pressing issue.  According to 2010 Ministry of Education data, 50% of third graders reach national standards in mathematics and just over 50% reach national standards in reading.  Among sixth graders, only 45% reach national mathematics standards and only 30% reach national reading standards.  Even when students are able to complete primary school, many do not acquire the necessary skills to advance.   Furthermore, while there are nominal national differences in school enrollment between boys and girls, the enrollment gap between rural and urban areas is significant.

In Guatemala, more than two million out-of-school youth between the ages of 15 and 24, including 600,000 in the Western Highlands, do not have basic life or vocational skills to enter the workforce.  Youth face increasingly difficult conditions, including high levels of unemployment, social and economic marginalization, rapid urbanization, increasing crime, and lack of basic services.  Long-term, sustainable development and improved equity in Guatemala will only be possible if education of children and youth continues to improve.

USAID's Response

USAID’s education efforts are part of the Western Highlands Integrated Program, which focuses on reducing chronic malnutrition and improving food security through the implementation of three Presidential Initiatives – Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative, and the Global Climate Change Initiative

The Western Highlands Integrated Program seeks to achieve sustainable rural development through parallel focus on agriculture, economic development, health care, education, nutrition, adaptation to the impacts of climate change, local governance, and gender equity. The Integrated Program works in 30 municipalities and more than 2,500 communities in Guatemala’s Western Highlands that suffer from the highest rates of poverty and chronic malnutrition, yet have the potential for economic growth. USAID collaborates with Guatemalan officials and leaders at the community, municipal, departmental, and regional levels to achieve shared goals, especially under Guatemala’s national plan to reduce chronic malnutrition, known as the Zero Hunger Pact. 

In the education sector, USAID works in partnership with the Government of Guatemala to improve primary grade reading skills and provide educational opportunities for out-of-school youth.

  • To improve the quality of education, USAID is focusing on improving reading skills by promoting early grade reading as the backbone of lifelong learning.
  • USAID supports the Ministry of Education and its National Reading Program by developing, printing, and distributing materials in Mayan languages and Spanish.  Additionally, USAID trains teachers and strengthens the management and technical skills of Ministry of Education personnel. 
  • USAID partners with parents and communities to call for quality education services and raise awareness of the important role that mothers play in their children’s education. 
  • USAID works alongside local governments to establish basic requirements for schools to foster a classroom environment conducive to improving reading skills.  These requirements include: a minimum of 180 school days per year, availability of books and reading materials for all students, and basic services such as water, electricity, and latrines for boys and girls.
  • USAID helps develop and improve the Ministry of Education’s information systems and promotes the use of data generated by these systems to inform policy decisions.
  • USAID activities provide opportunities for out-of-school rural indigenous youth in the Western Highlands to receive education and build skills to increase their access to sustainable livelihoods.  Out-of-school youth, many of whom have not completed primary or secondary school, receive workforce readiness and vocational training as well as alternative options to complete primary and secondary school.   

Results and Accomplishments

USAID’s efforts have resulted in:

  • Expanded National Reading Program – In 2013, USAID was instrumental in helping the Ministry of Education expand the coverage of its National Reading Program to all 22 departments of the country, reaching approximately two million students – 80% of those enrolled in government schools nationwide.  An important accomplishment in the National Reading Program roll-out was that the materials were produced, printed, and distributed not only in Spanish, but also in four indigenous languages. 
  • Support for bilingual education for indigenous students – To improve the quality of education for indigenous students for whom Spanish is a second language, USAID supported the Ministry of Education’s design and approval of reading and writing components for the Intercultural and Bilingual Education Model.
  • Improved education systems – With USAID assistance, the Ministry of Education has developed strong K-9 national education standards.  USAID also developed an innovative assessment system for entry-level teachers using standardized testing in Spanish and nine Mayan languages to hire and place teachers.  Additionally, with USAID support, the Ministry improved the transparency and efficiency of its processes, and as a result, in 2007, received international certification of its management system. The Ministry is the first public institution in Guatemala to meet this standard. 
  • Analyses and assessments for better programming – USAID supported several strategic studies in education that provide information to advocate for stronger investments in public education.  USAID also helped the Ministry of Education to conduct a national multi-sector study to identify basic life competencies that Guatemalans believe students graduating from secondary school (9th-12th grades) need to be competitive in the labor market. 

Education Reports

Labor Market Assessment

The LAC Regional Workforce Development Program (RWDP) has designed and conducted a baseline assessment to examine the labor markets, and in particular, market demand for skills, in each of the countries in which the Program is working. This evaluation of each country’s labor market analyzes economic trends and patterns and identifies growth sectors. The study looks at the demand for technical education graduates, and the supply of qualified workers in selected growth sectors. It entails significant use of a value chain framework, a tool that is designed to be adopted by local stakeholders and identify and understand ongoing demand for the types of skills provided through technical education at the tertiary level. The goal is that this assessment will not only help technical training institutions in Guatemala revamp their offerings, but also, more generally, will help decision-makers understand what the demand for skills might look like in the future.

Full report (English)

Full report (Spanish)

Related Links

Building Bridges to Collaboration: How Co-Creation Led to the Puentes Activity

Organizational Challenge: The USAID/Guatemala Health and Education Office was considering a new project to address the challenge of out-of-school, unemployed youth in the Western Highlands.

Last updated: October 30, 2019

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