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Innovative Program Bolsters School Access and Attendance in the Bolivian Altiplano

Family Student Lodging Program successfully tackles the challenge of enabling youth from isolated communities to stay at school until the 8th grade, lending new meaning to an ancestral Aymara indigenous custom.

The geographic and economic characteristics of the Andean Region, which has a low development index and a large number of isolated communities, have always been an obstacle to young people continuing their studies. In Bolivia, school drop-out rates in the Andean altiplano are among the country’s highest. “In northern Potosi, 58.51% of schools only offer classes until the 3rd grade and just 11.7% see primary education through to the 8th grade,” explained the educator Franklin Bustillos, director of the People’s Foundation. “This means that approximately 7,500 pupils in that part of the country each year have to go to a school outside of their community to complete their primary education. More than 70% of the population enrolled in 1st grade run the risk of dropping out of education before they complete their obligatory schooling (8th grade).”

Nearly 10 years ago, the People’s Foundation devised a project to change this situation: the Student Family Lodging Program. The initiative consists of establishing educational centers in strategically located villages to give youth from neighboring communities easier access to a primary education, coupled with an accommodation network of host families. During the week, the young pupils concentrate on their studies and attend capacity-building seminars on topics such as health, hygiene and nutrition. On the weekends, they return home. The experience began in 1997 in two municipal districts from the department of La Paz: Yanacachi and Sud Yungas. The significant improvement in school performance and the rising number of enrollments was a clear demonstration of the program’s potential. Without having to work to pay for their studies, having all their basic needs guaranteed and also receiving support outside the school, the children obtained excellent academic results. In 2004, the initiative was extended to the north of the department of Potosi. “This model prevents the youth from having to walk long distances to get to school,” said Bustillos. The average distance between communities and schools that offer a complete primary education is 11 kilometers. “This means that the children from northern Potosi have to walk nearly 2 hours to get to school.”

Currently, 280 pupils from the municipal districts of Yanacachi, LLallagua, Pocoata and Colquechaca participate in the program. The sustainability of the model is guaranteed by the support of municipal governments, which have signed agreements with the People’s Foundation and today include this support in their annual budgets.

The Student Family Lodging Program was inspired by an ancestral custom of the Aymara people – one of the indigenous groups that make up the Bolivian population – known as utawawa. To illustrate that this is an old problem, in the past families living far away from schools sent their children to live with relatives or godparents to study, and in exchange they would do domestic or agricultural chores for the host family. This custom, while enabling children to go to school, also endorsed child labor. The modern version of utawawa not only abandons this practice, it also provides the female hosts in the rural area with an additional income. The quality of the service provided by the host families is supervised by staff from the program at each center. Students have the right to their own bedroom, proper meals and clean hygienic conditions. The teachers receive ongoing training, which helps improve the quality of the schooling.

Program Among the Winners of the Experiences in Social Innovation Award

Second placed in the 2006/2007 cycle of the Experiences in Social Innovation Award, organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) with the support of the Kellogg Foundation, the Student Family Lodging Program was a highlight of the Innovation Fair held in December last year in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The judging committee said the initiative stands out for the scale of its achievements: a significant improvement in school access, attendance and in the completion of primary education; promotion of school attendance by girls; income generation for indigenous women in the region; and contribution to the Millennium Development Goals, namely universal primary education and gender equality in primary and secondary education.

According to Nora Rey Marulanda, spokesperson for the judging committee, the Bolivian program has also contributed “to improving the quality of education through its support for teachers”. The Student Family Lodging Program has been supported by the Kellogg Foundation since 2004.

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