SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — New school facilities with air conditioning and freshly-painted classrooms are appearing in the Dominican Republic.
Teachers and students have demanded education reforms in the Dominican Republic for a long time. Recently, however, the government has taken an interest in rebuilding academic facilities and mandating longer school days. The President of the Dominican Republic Danilo Medina has even promised to spend 4 percent of the country’s GDP on education, a significant rise compared to previous years.
In the Dominican Republic, General Education Law 66/97, established by President Leonel Fernandez, mandates that the government spend 4 percent of the nation’s GDP on education. The government, however, has not complied with this law in previous years, spending only 2.2 percent.
In 2011, teachers in the Dominican Republic campaigned to increase government spending on education. According to an Education International article, “Dominican Republic: Investment in Education Now,” the teachers have “formed the Coalición Educación Digna to promote the campaign to secure four percent of GDP for public education in the country.”
In 2013, teachers rallied for salary increases. Education International also reported on the salary conflict, stating, “The basic salary for teachers in the Dominican Republic is US $219 per month. The cost of the basic monthly shopping basket, however, as defined by the Central Bank for the poorest in the country, is US $292.68.” Despite the demonstrations, the Ministry of Education only increased teachers’ salaries by 20 percent.
Despite pushes for education reform, according to data, school enrollment rates have remained high in the Dominican Republic. The Worldbank recorded a rate of 103 percent in 2012. The quality of education, however, remains low, especially in rural parts of the country. According to UNICEF, “The rural areas are at a disadvantage due to the distances at which schools are located in some areas.” As a result, grade repetition and dropout rates are higher in these parts of the Dominican Republic.
Poor school conditions, a shortage of teachers and inadequate lesson materials often result in increased dropout rates. Schools and teachers, however, did not have sufficient funds to improve academics in the past. The increased funding will hopefully change this.
The funds will be distributed between the construction of new schools, the hiring of more teachers and the extension of school days. By 2016, the government plans to have built 28,000 new classrooms to accommodate the country’s growing number of students and teachers.
The allocation of the funding is met with some apprehension. Dominicans worry that the funding will not be effective until the government meets teachers’ salary demands. Maribel Hernandez, a communications director for the Dominican Republic government, indicates that the hiring and training of new teachers will come after the opening of the new classrooms.
While the government’s promise to increase spending on education is only in its initial stages, the recent efforts to improve school conditions suggest that the educational reform promises are sincere.
– Jaclyn Ambrecht
Sources: Education International 1, Education International 2, DW, UNICEF, The World Bank
Photo: Hope Rising