The executive director of the Foundation for the Development of Azua, San Juan and Elias Piña (FUNDASEP), one of the organizations supported by the Kellogg Foundation in the Dominican Republic, examines the progress achieved in Vallejuelo and discusses the role of education in the economic growth of the district.
What is the major challenge for the development of Vallejuelo?
Education. There’s no doubt about it. There is a major crisis in the quality of education. Class attendance is inconsistent and there are not enough school days: only three days per week. Many teachers are from out of town. Since the municipal district offers few services, teachers who do live in Vallejuelo often spend an entire school day sorting out problems they can only resolve in other towns. Neither are there any incentives for a career in teaching. Many supplement their income working in agriculture. It’s common not to have classes when the schools hold educational planning sessions, staff meetings or teacher training courses. If a public holiday falls on a school day, the pupils take the rest of the week off. The sum of these factors has created an environment in which young people pay little attention to education.
Is education still not a priority in the district?
No, although there is a growing concern on this topic. It is a complex problem with historic roots in the large-scale migration of the past two decades. Vallejuelo lost two thirds of its population in this period. Among adults, illiteracy was 80%. Young people in particular left in search of opportunities in other towns. Many students are above the school age, which makes the educational process all the more difficult. It would be easier to work with classes of students with similar ages.
Is the physical structure of the schools good enough?
This is another problem. Secondary education pupils have classes in the same building as the primary pupils. The schools were only designed to provide basic-level education services. In the past, those who wanted to continue their studies had to do so elsewhere. These days we have classes for secondary pupils, but the bathrooms are not suited to older students. This means they have to go home to use the bathroom in the middle of classes. Many don’t bother coming back. There are too many excuses not to study.
How does the alliance of projects in Vallejuelo intend to change this situation?
Organizations in the alliance such as CAJIR (International Rural Youth Advisory Council) and FUNDASEP have their own specific projects to tackle this problem. CAJIR, in the area of education; we at FUNDASEP, engaging with social actors in Vallejuelo, building mini-alliances with youth and farmers to address local problems, such as vocational training and life lessons that instill strong values. We need to create a new awareness about the role of education in the development of the municipal district.
How can this be done?
The community is discovering, little by little, that it is capable of finding solutions for problems that used to seem unsolvable. This was the case with the construction of the water system. As a result of this, there is now enough water to satisfy the basic needs of the population. Many households have installed water tanks, which we never used to have in Vallejuelo. This has resulted in less illness – because people no longer need to use river water, which is the same water used by the livestock. There was a lot of contamination. On some days there were 200 or so people working for free on the aqueduct, the majority youth. It was a remarkable response from the community. The same could happen with education. Vallejuelo has discovered the value of mobilization and understands its potential to make important changes.
Does the community see a relation between the various local problems?
The Alliance For the Local Development of Vallejuelo tries to illustrate this relation in discussions held with families, youth, farmers and municipal authorities. Production has increased because farmers now have enough water to improve onion cultivation. Children no longer have to work in the fields or fetch water from the river; now they can go to school. To secure better prices, farmers need to step up their knowledge of marketing techniques. In other words, they need to learn more and more. And they know it. The topic of education is present in everything we do in Vallejuelo. This is why we say that education is at the heart of the integral development of the district.