The Transformation of Education: UNO's Political Project
Juan Bautista Arríen
This article, written by Dr. Juan Bautista Arrién, won first prize in envío's fourth annual writer's contest. Dr. Arrién is currently the Ministry of Education's Permanent Secretary of the National Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO, a position he assumed under the Sandinista government. He is also a researcher with the Nicaraguan Institute for Popular Research and Education (INIEP) and professor of Philosophy of Law at the Central American University (UCA) in Managua. Under the Sandinista government, he also served as Principal Advisor to the Minister of Education and General Director of Educational Planning and Development. Before 1979, he was successively vice rector and rector of the UCA. (For other contest winners, see box on "Results of envío's Fourth Annual Writer's Contest," this issue.)
Sandinista education: Far-reaching and popularUnder the Sandinista revolution, education was both a pedagogical and a political project. While incorporating all the technical and methodological elements of modern scientific teaching, it was explicitly committed to the popular classes, by and for whom the revolution was made. As such, it had a far-reaching, coherent and holistic strategy. The wellspring of this project was the profound process of social transformation itself—the participation of popular movements as historic new subjects and the state as promoter, sponsor and guarantor of the project's overall popular nature.
At times, its educational and political dimensions took shape at different rhythms and with different criteria. The former focused on developing the more formal aspects of education (structure of the system, curriculum, plans and programs), while the latter unleashed a huge social force promoted precisely by this very interesting fusion of the two dimensions.
Within the Ministry of Education (MED), the regular education programs were dealt with according to the formalities of traditional pedagogical science, but the literacy crusade and adult popular education programs promoted a new kind of pedagogy, very dynamic, creative and characteristic of Nicaragua and freer from the influence of traditional models.
While even formal education was oriented largely toward the popular sectors, it did not develop to the same degree as popular education. The latter was much more innovative and grew more, because it was the artery in which the freshest blood of the popular revolutionary project flowed. This somewhat disproportionate growth accounts for many of the successes and innovations as well as the errors that accompanied the concept and development of education under the revolution.
How did both educational forms lean toward the grassroots sectors? The following are only a few of the ways in which educational opportunities increased and met the basic learning needs of popular sectors within the framework of formal education.
- Education at all levels was virtually free.
- New people entered the education system from the grassroots sectors.
- Participation in pre-school and rural basic education increased.
- Basic education (four grades) was offered in 81% of rural schools (previously less than 10%).
- Special education services increased markedly.
- Bilingual and bicultural education programs began on the Atlantic Coast.
- Rural Work-Study Schools were created.
- Peasant Agricultural Schools were created to educate rural producers.
- Secondary education was established for young workers.
- The Preparatory College was created to facilitate university access for children of workers and peasants.
- An extensive grant program was created for study within Nicaragua and abroad.
Popular education, both at its root (the Literacy Crusade) and in later development (Adult Education), had greater spirit, not just because of the students themselves, but because it brought the grassroots sectors into an education of and for a social process in which the people taught each other; and this in turn generated new ways to organize learning (Education Collectives), created very important actors such as grassroots teachers, and developed participatory forms of training and administration.
Given the climate of a revolution with popular participation in the system's different components, it is not surprising that education went hand in hand with a political role; it is why grassroots education developed so strongly in Nicaragua. From 1985 on, the MED and the government as a whole considered its concept and practice to be unique and distinctive within national education.
Education filled with people and people with education, to such a degree that by 1982, one could already say the Nicaraguan people were "in a state of education." The popular education concept permeated the different groups, organizations and institutions. Its use in health brigades, the agrarian reform, drafting the new Constitution (1987), preparations for the electoral process, the growth of the communal movement and grassroots and community preschools all helped consolidate its methodology and practice. The area covered increased 93% during the 1980s, with a corresponding proportional increase in other aspects, such as teachers, schools and textbooks.
As the decade passed, however, internal and external problems, including the counterrevolutionary war and economic blockade, lowered the pedagogical level in both formal and popular education, while the political took on greater force. The important thing in such critical periods is to see that the political, which in other moments gives life to the pedagogical, not substitute for or reduce its free movement, as happened with elements of the revolution's educational project.
UNO's educational project: Apolitical?Despite these problems in the later years, the new government encountered a generalized and largely consolidated popular education project. At first, it seemed that UNO did not have its own project sufficiently well conceived or structured to put it into effect. There was a certain amount of confusion and insecurity among the new education authorities, as if the responsibility for a new project took them by surprise.
When education workers demanded that the government define its new project, the first education minister, Sofonias Cisneros, gave vague and imprecise answers. He only managed to say that the new authorities sought an education that promoted new, fundamentally Christian values harmonious with historical requirements for peace, democracy, coexistence and reconciliation.
While this lack of definition prevailed for a time, a clear and relatively rapid decision was made about the education system's more privileged actors. Regional, municipal and district-level delegates and school directors were quickly replaced; many teachers were transferred or laid off, even with the school year still in session.
This lack of clarity on the one hand and obvious aggression in replacing teachers on the other generated distrust and tension between teachers and authorities, with the result that a certain sluggishness, at best, reigned in education. Time was lost and the system's general erosion increased. The May and July 1990 strikes exacerbated the distrust, paralysis and purges—the latter gaining impetus after the National Assembly declared that school directors held positions "of trust" and could thus be replaced without other cause. The purges added to the country's growing unemployment, which surpassed 40% of the economically active population by the end of 1990, thus widening the chasm of insecurity between workers and government authorities.
Ministry authorities responded to this paralysis with a "silent treatment." They did not consider workers, blocked their activities and participation and subjected them to psychological wear through inactivity and job insecurity, all the while giving the finishing touches to their conception of a new direction in education.
The new policy was announced in a July 1990 MED publication entitled "Guidelines of the Ministry of Education under the new Government of National Salvation." To fully understand it, other decisive factors, such as the new socioeconomic context and, especially, the government's neoliberal economic project must be taken into account. This economic project—part of a broader current running through many third world countries whose central objective is structural adjustment—influenced the educational project.
The imposition of the neoliberal model in Nicaragua is the UNO government's answer to the country's economic deterioration given the war, the global economic crisis of the 1980s, economic policy failures and longstanding weaknesses in production and productivity. Macroeconomic indicators like inflation, currency devaluations, increased foreign debt and decreased investment all demonstrate this deterioration.
The new economic model promotes a reduced state role in production, privatization, a market economy and economic deregulation and requires a considerable amount of foreign resources. In order to establish such a model under current conditions in Nicaragua, the government adopted a strategy heavily influenced by the International Monetary Fund, which insists on reduced public spending. This, in turn, imposes severe and disproportionate sacrifices on workers: alarming increases in unemployment, salaries far lower than the cost of living, impoverishment, hunger and labor instability.
Formulation and application of the education "Guidelines"The wording one chooses to express concepts is always important, and this is no less true in attempting to understand what the new Ministry of Education thinks about education and the orientation it should be given in this new stage. For tactical reasons, UNO's education authorities entered the new socio-political stage with democratic slickness and style by talking about "guidelines," omitting terms usually used like "education policies" or "education project." "Guidelines" refers to somewhat general and vague orientations that, in fact, already foreshadow a real educational project and, from there, a new concept of education.
Strategically, these guidelines already contain substantial elements of a new, well-conceived and defined concept of education. With them, the ministry has tried to discredit, disfigure and eliminate the previous education system in order to present, in contrast with its heralded death, life and resurrection in a "new" education. Its principal goal is to erase and replace, at any cost, Sandinista ideology—seen as the fundamental cause of the educational "disaster" that UNO inherited.
The content and form of education during the revolutionary period is taken out of context and bitterly criticized. Hardly any mention is made of its unquestionable achievements—the object of international recognition. The forced admission of some achievements is diluted in very general terms: "Some meritorious efforts were made in certain areas of education... coverage was not only extended to sectors of the population traditionally marginalized from education, but also, despite considerable economic limitations, former officials tried to accommodate teaching to the country's agrarian and occupational characteristics... officials and technicians from the central MED offices and teachers at all levels made altruistic efforts and sacrifices in return for the lowest state salaries."
In terms of statistical data, only the most substantial deficiencies inherited from the Somoza era are mentioned. Trying to contrast enrollment achievements with a high dropout rate, they claim that only 6,127 students were still enrolled in their final year of high school, but that statistic refers only to day students; the figure doubles to 12,540 when night students are included. They also try to minimize educational achievements under the Sandinista government by pointing out that the current national illiteracy rate is over 20%, without referring to the 50.3% illiteracy rate in 1979, or by stating that teachers with no formal training account for 70 to 80% of the profession, ignoring the fact that some 14,000 of these teachers played a decisive role in addressing the growing demand for education.
In the Guidelines analysis, the quality of education during the revolutionary period offered nothing positive. All is reduced to "deterioration," including in the values and attitudes of youth: the loss of a critical sensibility, an increase in irresponsibility and lack of discipline and the predominance of passive and memory-oriented learning habits.
While there is some objective truth to these statements, they distort reality. At the same time, Nicaraguan youth developed very profound values such as solidarity; the student teaching movement began; the new government inherited a drug-free student population; and in many schools, precisely because of the shortage of textbooks, active initiatives and independent learning methods abounded.
Why do the Guidelines present such a negative and destructive picture? To justify the logic of the new educational system. All educational weaknesses, the system's deterioration and the almost total loss of all that could have been achievements were caused by one key element, described in various ways throughout the document: "the ideologizing and political sectarianism of teaching... the obsessive political propaganda in texts and programs as well as in the sectarian manipulation of teachers and students... the subjection of teaching to a party's political-ideological project. The entire system was subjected to the interests of a party elite, otherwise unfamiliar with the ministry, that was more interested in indoctrination and assuring support for its own political project than in educating."
Many more such statements make the same central point: the FSLN subjected national education to political, sectarian and party interests, impeding the effective development of education and wiping out initial achievements, until they became simply educational and pedagogical spoils. For this reason, the new education authorities always have the statement that education should not be "politicized" on the tip of their tongues.
On this basis, one can more easily understand the rest of the "Guidelines," in which an alternative "good image" is drawn to perfection. The document appeals to the need for extraordinary efforts in education corresponding "to the needs of society as a whole as well as human dignity—the inalienable right to a comprehensive education." It refers to the humanistic aspect of the new education, which "cannot conceive of an individual as a mere tool of production, omitting fundamental aspects of one's holistic education that may fall outside economic calculations, [because] a personal and humanistic education cannot develop without paying attention to the specific needs and peculiarities of the society in which an individual is immersed and which should contribute to his or her transformation."
To enhance this "humanistic" vision, the document appeals to the national Constitution, adopted in January 1987, without acknowledging that Title VII summarizes the "Goals, Objectives and General Principles of the New Education"—of the Sandinista government: a new concept of education actually put in effect in March 1983 after national consultation. It would seem important for the Guidelines to outline the points of continuity between the "new education" and education under the Sandinistas.
Four general principlesOn the strength of this humanistic image, education under the new government took the stage with general principles that are well-conceived and logically structured, but which contain intrinsic weaknesses and are far from being appropriately applied.
Rescue the true sense of full and comprehensive education. This implies, without convincingly demonstrating it, that during the previous government education did not provide, or even deformed, this education, even though the basis for and development of this "rescue" in the Guidelines is almost an exact repetition of the Constitution.
Educate for democracy and peace. Democracy, freedom, peace—the almost sacred trilogy of the new post-war political context. Behind these concepts, which in their fullest sense we all adhere to, lies the supposition that the antecedent to this need is the existence of an authoritarian or totalitarian state. At the same time, true democracy, freedom and peace are not defined for each and every Nicaraguan; they would have to include in equal proportion the poor, workers, peasants and all other sectors traditionally marginalized from the benefits of democracy, freedom and peace.
Educate for development. "Education should contribute to the formation of competent individuals willing and accustomed to using their natural talents to the maximum reasonable degree for the good of the country's development and transformation," says the document. This development, to be an objective of education, cannot be separated from the adjective "human"; only "true human development" is also just and egalitarian. In some people's minds, it seems that development is a synonym of economic growth, which almost always denies justice and equality.
Educate for the family. The family is given a great deal of importance in the Guidelines from all points of view; this is in part because the political parties in UNO unscrupulously insist that the FSLN, as an organization based on Marxist principles, has destroyed the Nicaraguan family in favor of a totalitarian state.
No one would object to these four general principles in their formulation. They represent a general consensus, are very fashionable and necessary and give the education being promoted as "new" a very attractive image. The problem is how to apply them and how to create a socioeconomic context, an economic project and a social policy that make it possible to accomplish them fully. If this reality is not taken into account, these principles may not go beyond a list of intentions and, thus, simply constitute an image for export—or, in the language of Saint Paul, a "cymbal that rings" but is empty.
Intentions and application of the principlesAfter stating these general principles, the Guidelines move toward specifics. But they, too, are not very specific. They appear standardized and, to a certain degree, also made for export.
Curricular transformation. The document talks about transforming the curriculum, but without touching on the curriculum's design, organization, study plans and programs or all the components and elements that the educational process demands.
Without its own global and comprehensive vision of an education system and the learning process at all levels, it advocates reinforcing weak areas such as math, science and Spanish, eliminating or substantially reforming some subjects and adding others—philosophy, computer science and civics, emphasizing human rights.
Any real curricular transformation, even conceived of as temporary, should include all its components. Yet without fully taking this on as should be done, without fully analyzing all elements comprising the learning and teaching processes for many years, the MED, simply for the imperative of erasing and replacing an ideology, developed and edited new primary and secondary school textbooks for the 1991 school year. Education authorities constantly praised the coming of these new texts to Nicaragua.
School textbooks thus became the key piece in the new government' s chess game of education policy, with which it tried to checkmate the previous government's education system. But textbooks, important in and of themselves, are just one component of curricular transformation; emphasizing them alone means that the most modern teaching methods will lose significance. The development of new texts should logically move according to the overall process of changes in curriculum, which should take place in stages. In any educational reform, all components of the overall curricular transformation should be organized with adequate time for their corresponding application, because the pupils' learning and their interrelations with their teachers are long-term processes in which innovation must be appropriately accommodated to continuity.
Educational reform must also be pedagogical and, as such, become part of the formation and learning process in which pupils and educators are subjects and objects. The MED, in its extreme urgency to replace stigmatized and inadequate educational materials (that is, wipe them clean of Sandinista content and flavor) and having international financing ($15 million from the US Agency for International Development) to do so, overlooked some fundamental pedagogical principles.
Academic freedom. The document speaks of academic freedom and defends educators' and students' autonomy, creativity and initiative, implying certain flexibility in study programs and overcoming the use of a single text—one expression of the "totalitarianism" and "ideological sectarianism" that the Guidelines attribute to the Sandinista government's education policy.
This will be put to the test when a teacher or a group of teachers or students decide, for example, that educational materials with a Sandinista perspective explain contemporary history better and more objectively. Will academic freedom exist in this case? Has this alternative not already been eliminated by the all-out declaration of war against Sandinista ideology, which included burning thousands of copies of primary school textbooks?
Non-partisan criteria for teachers. No education system is stable without appropriate social, salary and professional policies for the teaching profession. In order to guarantee dignified treatment of teaching professionals, the Guidelines advocate transferring huge defense resources to increase the education budget and promoting job stability “such that teaching positions and promotions are authorized based on professional qualifications and not partisan criteria.”
While there may be good intentions behind these concepts—as well as a need to create a positive image of education nationally and internationally—they are not completely credible given the actions already taken by the government. UNO representatives in the National Assembly approved a law declaring school directors positions "of trust"; the government's structural adjustment policy requires laying off or transferring numerous education workers; the law setting teaching regulations was postponed over and over again; and, in 1990, the difference in salaries between new officials occupying management posts and those from the previous administration still holding them was enormous—the former ranging from $1,000 to $1,250, the latter, from $150 to $200. All of these certainly seem to be "partisan criteria."
Improving academic performance. All Latin American countries are currently struggling to improve academic performance, recognizing that its deterioration has been influenced in different ways by the economic crisis of the 1980s. The Guidelines take on this laudable struggle, though starting from the premise that low academic performance in Nicaragua is due almost exclusively to the "politicization and sectarianism" promoted in education by the FSLN. The truth is that numerous different factors—as in other countries—have affected performance and led to deterioration in the quality of education.
Democratization and the family. In the context of the "new democracy," democratization and a greater role for parents have taken on great importance. According to the Guidelines, the new education requires that "parents be actively involved in the education of their children as a shared task.… It is the parents' primary right and responsibility to choose the education their children will receive. Parents should play a role both in the adaptation and design of new study plans and in the leadership and administration of the different schools. Members of the public and private teaching profession should also play a significant role, given the valuable support to the educational transformation process that their vocation, experience and qualifications offer."
The document also states that "education authorities will look to the students and different civic organizations and unions with a direct interest in education for their contributions." And, in this context, "the MED proposes launching a national consultation with the goal of determining criteria that contribute to defining the kind of education that should be promoted in Nicaragua."
In spite of these declarations' commendable intentions, the 1991 school year was defined and organized without heeding them: education returned to the system of six primary grades and five secondary grades, setting aside the previously employed concept of nine grades of guaranteed basic education, and a study plan was set for primary and secondary schools with their respective programs, subjects, time allotments and new textbooks for each grade and subject. Absolutely no consultation of teaching professionals, students or parents took place before implementing these changes, despite the commitment to do so as quickly as possible.
Some of these excellent theories are thus in perfect contradiction with reality. It seems that the MED has forgotten people's participation in society's tasks, especially those in which that right is guaranteed—a fundamental practical principle of democracy. The initial jolt back to the undemocratic past was rapid and violent. "Educational transformations" have been conceived of and planned by select groups of technicians and education authorities.
The people have returned to their role simply as users of education services devised by education technicians, while the government still incessantly proclaims that we finally enjoy a "new democracy." No one doubts that it is new; the question is if it is a democracy. Democracy in education means that the social groups most directly involved in education must be able to participate.
"Key areas" of the new educationIn terms of expanding education, the "key areas" mentioned in fact ratify the priority programs promoted under the Sandinista government. They also coincide with the theories and objectives reached by the World Conference on Education for All held in Thailand in March 1990:
1) Coverage of Basic Education (specifically grades 1-4) and preschool.
3) Adult education.
4) Technical and vocational education.
Nevertheless, for this policy to represent a real educational expansion that guarantees at least a basic education for all, equal opportunities must be offered to all Nicaraguans—including the national conglomerate, urban and rural, that lives with unemployment, poverty and bare survival. This would guarantee the majority access to, stability and advancement in the school system and the same quality of education for every student. To speak of expansion and objectively contrast it with unquestionable deficiencies ends up very vague if no effort is made to define concrete goals and target populations for different levels, population groups and time periods.
With regard to literacy, it would create a strange and negative image if, in its official international discourse, Nicaragua did not advocate it, especially in the International Year of Literacy (1990). It would also drift away from the international spirit if its Guidelines for education did not advocate adult education.
Under the Sandinista government, literacy and adult education programs were given genuine priority, served as propelling forces for far-reaching pedagogical innovation, and were widely recognized internationally. In the first nine months of the UNO government, literacy—considered a priority in the Guidelines (one of only two places the word "priority" is used in the entire text)—and adult education had already entered a state of advanced starvation. Both programs awaited the shroud in which they would be buried by neglect. No revitalizing effort on behalf of these programs is visible on the horizon.
All this gives the impression that they are being maintained and even promoted only at the level of discourse and international image, while the hidden intention is to get rid of or change them radically, since the new authorities maintain that both programs were open terrain for FSLN politicization. It would be a great shame for the government to relegate thousands of Nicaraguans to ignorance by not facilitating their access to education.
It is possible, once the literacy and adult popular education programs have been stripped of their Sandinista clothing, that education authorities will opt for new programs, dressed in different ideological apparel that is considered "apolitical" simply because it is not Sandinista. But while waiting for the tracks of Sandinismo to be totally erased, the year 2000 could arrive quickly—the year by which Nicaragua, as well as many other countries, has committed itself in international resolutions to eradicate illiteracy and guarantee its population both basic and adult education.
The Guidelines also promise to give special attention to technical and vocational education, "above all in order to respond to overall technical demands and to the need to train thousands of demobilized for jobs." But technical and vocational education is appropriately established as part of a country's plans for development, and achieves its full human, social and labor potential based on a certain economic project and socioeconomic context. The picture presented by the economic project currently in force in Nicaragua could generate a social and labor vacuum for technicians and workers trained in this program, not because of the nature of the program but because of the demands of the economic project itself.
The creation of the National Technological Institute (INATEC) in January 1991, directly under the Presidency, in order to integrate technical education previously offered by the MED with vocational training offered by the Labor Ministry, shows a real interest in responding to deficiencies in the country's productive human resources. But this does not guarantee that those trained will find the jobs they merit if the economic project does not genuinely promote the development of the entire population. A dignified job is not one in which technical resources are put at the service of models that use humans simply as cheap labor, such as in Southeast Asian industries.
Private education. Support for private education must be considered not only in its formulation and intent but also in the way it is put into practice. It is not surprising that, in a democratic regime in which privatization is a fundamental part of the neoliberal economic project, pluralism would invade different aspects of national life. Given this framework, it fits perfectly that "the state should permit and, in fact, does permit private parties to attend to the educational needs of large segments of the population," since, according to article 119 of the Constitution, the state cannot refuse to provide education to the population.
Going beyond past government policy in this area, the Guidelines conclude: "The increase in individual initiatives in education is a phenomenon that the new authorities see favorably and hope to foster." While theoretically acceptable, in practice this policy can be dangerous—as confirmed by history in many underdeveloped countries—given that only certain power groups can assume these individual initiatives, with the risk of education becoming a business. In any case, it almost certainly introduces a certain elitist class differentiation due to qualitative differences in education.
On the other hand, this policy logically gives Sandinismo the opportunity to use its own initiative to create one or more schools. It would be interesting to test the pluralism the MED speaks of so much with such an initiative. Would the MED accept Sandinistas founding an institute in which, together with official plans and programs, the academic freedom sanctioned in the Guidelines was actually practiced?
Intercultural bilingual education. Within Nicaraguan educational policy, reference to Intercultural Bilingual Education is fundamental. The Sandinista government made this program a priority, and it is a key element of both the letter and the spirit of the Atlantic Coast Autonomy Statute. The program developed acceptably, with its real protagonists being the region's teachers, leaders and communities.
The MED's Guidelines propose supporting this program, for which "the direct participation of leaders and representatives of indigenous communities and the form in which to best recover, preserve and develop their respective languages will be sought, given the demands of providing Nicaraguans with their own elements of universal culture."
For the time being, this intention, with its important political content, does not appear to be carried out in practice. Despite occasional demonstrations of concern, no substantial practical support has been given to revitalize this program. On the contrary, the technical team in charge of it from the MED's central offices has been unquestionably inactive. The texts developed for the national education system have not been translated to take indigenous concepts and expressions into account, and no new texts are being developed by teachers from the zone and to express the cultural reality of these ethnic groups, in content, language and method, within the framework of the national system.
A lay education with Christian valuesIn the section under clarifications, the Guidelines briefly refer to a problem that arose when education authorities revealed their decision to promote Christian values in education. Given some sectors' suspicion that this could mean imposing a confessional education, the ministry clarified with detailed precision that this suspicion was unfounded: "MED authorities have not talked of imposing a Catholic Education, which would violate the Constitution; what has been said, which the MED leadership openly proposes to the Nicaraguan population, is that the education system be open to Christian-inspired values. This opening does not contradict the mandate of lay education, which implies that the state not impose religion classes or declare a certain religion official."
Beyond this formal statement, what is important is that education as a system, as a service to the population and as a basic right of the population, be effectively carried out under Christian-inspired individual and social values. Education in a deteriorating socioeconomic context, where injustice and clearly anti-Christian values still persist, should urge the transformation of this reality such that God's justice reaches all, and it should do so with the option for the poor as the driving force that orients the new education's theory and practice.
Education and its programs cannot neglect this Christian element. It does not just mean discussing lay or confessional education in exclusively ideological and formal terms. It means, above all, that the Christian element be what inspires the meaning and role of education to its full personal and social extent. As such, the popular sectors, the poor—those for whom Jesus announced special preference in the Kingdom of God—will always be the object of special attention and privilege.
Cornerstones of the new educationThere are still obscure areas in the new government's education project that make it difficult to characterize it with full certainty. More time is needed. The voids that still exist mean some gray areas in our analysis, though it appears that the project's basic elements are already sufficiently defined in theory and practice to establish at least a project profile. We will try to do so.
The new government's education project is built on two essential cornerstones: to erase the ideology that constituted the Sandinista project for 10 years and to uphold the new neoliberal economic project, adapting components and elements of education to its consolidation and development.
The energy behind each of these two elements frequently joins and becomes confused, so it is difficult to define the limits of each one alone.
Erasing Sandinista ideology. If ideology is understood as the broad combination of forces that shapes human attitudes and behavior in a society, motivating and mobilizing it, then the ideological role of education cannot be forgotten. Ideology thus includes knowledge, ideas, values, criteria, attitudes, customs, interests and the like. Education is interrelated with all of these, although its influence is only partial.
To supplant a given ideology, one must have another, together with the methods and energy required to introduce it. This presumes a well-thought out and coordinated strategy. The strategy that the MED has followed to this end has been clear and consistent. Some of its key components are:
- To minimize and discredit education under the Sandinista government.
- To show, in all possible ways, that politicization, sectarianism and partisanship imposed on national education by the FSLN impeded its development and reversed its initial achievements.
- To offer a model of education that is savior and creator of a new Nicaragua, in which peace, democracy, freedom, coexistence, mutual respect, concertation, dialogue, reconciliation, the family, etc., all acquire prominence.
- To contrast those components of the new Nicaragua, which are very attractive in and of themselves, with everything before—the consequences of the war, the FSLN's errors, the debacle of the socialist world—through agile use of publicity (quoting texts from the elementary reader Azul y Blanco) and an extraordinary manipulation of the population's psychological and social expectations.
- To engrave in people's minds the principles mentioned above upon which this new education is based: rescuing the true meaning of full and comprehensive education, educating for democracy and peace, educating for development, educating for the family and a Christian-inspired education.
- To demonstrate the tangible ways in which this regenerative education will be felt, through academic freedom, promotion of the teaching profession, democratization and a greater role for parents, stimulation to increase academic performance and improvement in the quality of teaching in order to be able to compete with other countries, and support to private education.
- To apply a policy of substituting, eliminating and psychologically wearing down teachers, leadership staff and officials of the previous government in order to clear the road for the bearers and promoters of the new ideology. (It is of particular note that the National Assembly ruled that school directors are positions "of trust," making it possible for the authorities to appoint new directors to all schools—appointments in which political criteria is hardly extraneous in such a highly politicized society.)
- To name older people with technical-pedagogical experience from the pre-revolutionary period, some of whom were outside the country for several years, to key directorship positions.
- To introduce materials supporting the new ideology, such as civics and philosophy.
- To eliminate all previous primary and secondary education texts and replace them with new ones. With the 1990 school year already in session, the elementary reader called Los Carlitos was replaced with a new text, Azul y Blanco, and all texts from the previous government in storage were publicly burned or converted into pulp. The new texts are the MED's key instrument in its strategy to implement ideological change fully in the shortest time possible, both to erase the previous ideology and to impose the new one. The ministry's greatest efforts and resources have been dedicated to their development; they were published in record time and AID's technical and economic support has been explicably fast and fluid.
The new texts are attractively designed and printed and try to present a new image of education and the country. In them, all Nicaraguans appear as equals—"equal education for equal citizens"—and welfare and confidence in the future are effectively combined. Their content and methodological maladjustments, however, are another story. The government appeals to their transitory nature as an excuse for possible errors in these fundamental areas. The truth is that the decision to eliminate all elements of Sandinista ideology took priority over any other educational consideration. In both their positive and negative aspects, the new texts are the perfect tangible summary of the government's political discourse.
Upholding the neoliberal economic projectNo one doubts that the current model of education accommodates its different components to the consolidation and development of the new neoliberal economic project. There are direct relationships between the two.
The MED's new policy of supporting private schools by nature grants privileges to certain social groups with the resources to found schools that will clearly be economically exclusive in terms of the student population. It is only a short step from this to a class-competitive education where quality depends on economic resources.
The elimination of the nine-grade basic education system used for the past several years must also be examined more closely. The intention of conceiving of free and obligatory education as only that which covers six grades could be subtly influenced by the new economic model. For many reasons, this reduced educational quota would affect popular, rural and poor sectors.
A lot of attention is being paid to technical education and vocational education, seeing a trained worker as a vital resource for the country's development. The creation of INATEC is proof of this. Nevertheless, there is some doubt as to whether development should be interpreted, as apparent in the logic of the neoliberal model, simply as economic growth based on productivity and an increase in productive forces whose social relations are determined by capital. If so, education would be focused on technical education defined by capital interests instead of in the interest of human development, where the logic of labor is never subjected to the logic of capital.
Some conclusions- The Chamorro government's education project demonstrates significant internal coherence and clear conceptual development. Its principles, discourse and applications fit perfectly with the ideology in vogue internationally and with the psychosocial expectations of some sectors of the Nicaraguan population.
- Its intentions are presented in a language appropriate for international standards: pre-school and basic education, literacy, adult education, technical and professional education, training for the teaching profession. Any country, however, in order to abide by international educational priorities, explicitly refers to such "key areas," regardless of the priority given later, in practice, to each one of those.
- It has centered almost all efforts on formal education, particularly primary. This facilitates the modernization process, to supposedly improve the general academic level, increase administrative-pedagogic control and, above all, implant the new ideology as a basis for the new system’s socioeconomic and political project. The new school texts, destined precisely for primary and secondary formal education, play a decisive instrumental and strategic role.
- The interest in primary education has a two-fold explanation. On the one hand, it fulfills a child's fundamental right; on the other, a child at that age has not yet consolidated the ideology of the previous government. At the secondary level, students could put up greater resistance to the new ideology.
- With all attention on formal primary education, literacy and adult popular education programs have been discarded or, at least, significantly weakened. The government justifies abandoning these programs, claiming that the Sandinista government sustained its political project in them.
- The "preferential option for the poor" does not appear explicitly or with hoped-for force in the new government's Christian-inspired education project. The change from the Sandinista project's central orientation has not just meant a change in the allocation of state resources—the few there are—to social projects and programs (education, health, welfare, culture). The state is abandoning society to the open field of supply and demand in economic relations and, therefore, in all social and cultural relations that depend on economic factors or have a commodity value. And while the state continues assigning resources to education, it still takes on its commodity value. For the new government, there are no social classes, just "citizens," theoretically equal before the law. Program content does not underline class differences, instead homogenizing rich and poor and urban and rural into one category of "citizens with equal rights and duties," as long as the system defining the relationship between capital and labor is not questioned.
"Education will not make a distinction between people." There is no need, therefore, for popular education; there will only be "national education." And within this, the most there will be is adult education for citizens who, in practice, are from the popular classes. While it is clear that some citizens are rich and others poor, some urban and others rural, the programmatic content and even methodologies are the same for all, and all are invited to aspire to the same goal: "professionalization." Even though real life demonstrates loudly and clearly that possibilities for access, participation and success in the national education system are determined by class with only a few individual exceptions, this is completely ignored.
The imposition of the structural adjustment measures has triggered a process of massive impoverishment of the popular classes, their loss of buying power, unemployment and all kinds of economic and social destabilization. This, in turn, will provoke increasingly large numbers to drop out from an education system that does not offer an education that responds to their immediate needs.
We are in the presence of an education project conceived of as part of a new national socioeconomic project. Each political system develops its own education project; this one is the project of the government that calls itself "National Salvation."
The Sandinista project is still aliveThe FSLN has a record of indisputable conquests and indisputable errors. It has been more vulnerable as a party, due to national and international political and economic changes and pressures, than as a project, whose roots, raison d'être and development have always adhered to popular interests, energy and aspirations.
The original revolutionary project must be reactivated and brought up to date to recover strength and better apply to the current day. How that project was managed, some of the ways in which it developed and the maladjustments caused by the party's and some cadres' errors all must be thoroughly reviewed.
Sandinismo is still alive in its nature and originality and, as such, should aspire to be a "new alternative," a kind of "new frontier" and "new horizon" at the same time: frontier, because a concrete program must be developed for a new socioeconomic context and new political scenario in which we live; horizon, because the original and genuine Sandinista values on behalf of the great majorities of poor broadened its perspective of serving a permanent utopia.
With the election loss, the power of government was lost, but not necessarily the power of the people, of a popular revolution. This has profound implications and important consequences for the Sandinista project's educational tasks. This project must now be relocated in a new socioeconomic and political context.
In losing the government, the revolutionary project and its education program lost the state education apparatus and its organization, national coverage, financial resources, programs, study plans and official pedagogy, all of which gave priority to the development of the popular classes; it lost educational infrastructure and their use in diverse aspects of community development, an appreciable number of well-formed cadres—well-located in the education system—with accumulated educational experience, and better access to sources of foreign cooperation, such as international organizations and specialized United Nations agencies.
But this inventory of important losses does not eliminate the enormous human capital that remains in the Sandinista education project. An organized people with vast experience in calling people together remain, ready to mobilize and with them the "state of education" can be recovered. This people's creativity and originality is still alive to stimulate new educational currents, in addition to a well-rooted popular education concept and methodology and rich experience in popular pedagogy. All of this plays a significant role in many aspects of informal education, extending to many institutions, organizations and educational programs and projects operating in the many facets of national life. There is still a level of prestige broadly recognized by international organizations, won in large part by the pedagogical innovations developed during a decade of literacy programs and popular education. Also remaining are a number of well-trained cadres with vast experience in the various areas of both formal and informal education and an extensive bibliographical reserve—mostly unedited, typed or mimeographed, from which very important aspects of theory on popular education, education in poverty and education for change can be selected out. And there are accumulated errors in different aspects of education and pedagogy, in organization and administration of the national education system that can serve to orient and sustain future educational endeavors.
It is important to remember not only what has been lost but also what has been gained. A lot still survives, with the indisputable advantage that what survives is more substantial, profound and decisive for continued participation in Nicaragua's education process in a new socioeconomic and political context. Education is the work and responsibility of all—the state and civil society. For educators with the capacity to reproduce knowledge, the power of teaching and the possibility of organizing learning processes democratically, this crisis is an opportunity for searching and not a time for pessimism.