Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 22 | Abril 1983




For the new society in the new Nicaragua there is required the formation of the new man and woman. Complying with one of the basic goals of the government program launched in 1979, the Governing Junta of Nicaragua began an integral restructuring of national education, giving rise to polemics which we examine here.

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A new society in a new Nicaragua requires the formation of new men and women. Fulfilling one of the basic aims of its 1979 Governmental Platform, the National Reconstruction Government Junta has started to reorganize national education in an integrated way. This reorganization has provoked a controversy which we will examine thoroughly. We also will present some achievements and difficulties in the field of education throughout the three and a half years of the Revolution.


All education is part of the general order of a society. In the "Somocista" society, education served a "Somocista" order which tried to keep 95 per cent of the population in the service of the 5 percent that held the economic and political power and enjoyed all society's advantages. This education facilitated the continuation of an anti popular and elitist model.

In a society where most children over 10 years of age assumed the function of adults with respect to contribution to the family economy, education was planned according to criteria of developed societies. This explains a drop out rate of more than 50 per cent in the first few grades. In a country with a basically agricultural economy, education was based on memorization, was "humanist," theoretical, urban. On the other hand, the people's struggle against a 43-year old tyranny had no expression or channel at the educational level because the educational system ignored and denied any type of grassroots organization and its interests. Working with textbooks published in Venezuela, Costa Rica, Spain, etc., the Somocista education was totally estranged from Nicaragua's national reality. Due to the total separation of study and work, that education was not integral but rather exclusively theoretical.

Elementary education was meant solely as preparation for secondary education and secondary education was considered simply as the foyer of the university. The university, far from being a place of reflection on and solution of the problems of the nation, was a mere degree expending machine in the service of the multinational that exploited Nicaragua in alliance with the Somoza clan. In 1979 only 12 agricultural experts graduated from the university, and the total registration in agricultural science amounted to only 250 students; this in a country where the economy is essentially agricultural.

One consequence of this type of education was the growth of individualistic behavior and competitive spirit. The philosophy of individual enrichment as evidence of social success prevailed. To achieve a profound change in this sphere will require at least as much time as it took to introduce these counter-values. The Nicaraguan revolution has recently initiated a process of change in education and its efforts in this direction are evident.


Conscious of the need to transform education in terms of Nicaragua reality, the Revolutionary Government promised in its first National Reconstruction Government Program (1979) that: “A profound reform of the aims and content of National Education will be carried out, in order to make it a key factor in the humanistic transformation of Nicaraguan society and to reorient it in a critical and liberating sense. This reform will be integral and will include all stages of the process from pre-school to higher education.” (N° 3.5a)

As to private education, “the Ministry of Public Education will regulate the functioning of private schools, their registration fees and monthly charges and will assure the strict adherence to national education plans.” (3.5d) It should be pointed out that among those who approved these profound reforms of education goals as well as the regulation of private schools were Alfonso Robelo Callejas and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (owner of the newspaper “La Prensa”), at that time members of the Government Junta.

The official document, “Aims, Objectives and Principles of the New Education,” (General Principles N° 3) states: “Education is a fundamental and undeclinable function of the State.” It does not say that it is an exclusive right of the State. The Statute of Rights and Guarantees of Nicaraguan Citizens, Art. 40.4, preserves the right to “schools that are not established by the State as long as the minimum norms as to subject matter prescribed by the State are satisfied.” The words “fundamental and undeclinable function” are clear concepts well accepted by opposition political parties in Nicaragua. For example, the statutes of the now defunct Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN) said in 1979 (II, Social Area, Education): “Education is an essential function of the State. It constitutes a responsibility of the State…”

The 1979 Statute of Rights and Guarantees of Nicaraguan Citizens, Art. 4, Paragraph 4 states: “The parents’ right to choose schools for their children that are not state-run will be respected as long as they satisfy the minimum norms prescribed by the State.”

Plans to achieve a change in the educational system according to the needs of the country have been implemented. With that end in mind, the Ministry of Education (MED) organized a national Opinion Survey on Education in January, 1981. (This Survey was praised in the Pastoral Letter of the Nicaraguan Bishops in December, 1982). Throughout the country, a questionnaire with 55 questions was distributed in order to pick up the concerns, ideas, concepts, etc, regarding education. Groups from all social classes, mass organization, parents teachers, salespersons, campesinos, workers, religious, etc., expressed their opinions through this questionnaire. Approximately 80,000 persons representing the entire country discussed for three days what kind of education they wanted for their children. These opinions served as a basis from which a national team of teachers and professionals from the MED produced the first textbooks in accordance with the new educational plans. The textbooks and programs were transitional. The reflection and investigation continued.

In March, 1983, the beginning of the school year, the permanent first-grade program was implemented. At the same time, 1,000,200 low-cost textbooks - readers, math books, notebooks, etc. went on sale, which represented an important achievement in Nicaragua, where there has been a tremendous shortage of books.


One of the achievements that has not been sufficiently studied is the National Literacy Crusade and its follow up program of Adult Education. (See Envio No. 17). This impressive teaching "operation" serves as the basis for still another project which is part of efforts to raise the country's education level and which is called, "The Battle for the Fourth Grade." The resources that the government is utilizing to offer Nicaraguans this possibility are impressive. Raising the average level of education from second grade (the 1979 figure) to fourth grade is a gigantic battle. "It is a battle on two fronts: in the elementary school classrooms and in Adult Education. It is the battle for basic grassroots education." (Carlos Tunnermann, Minister of Education.) During the closing ceremony of the Sandinista Workers’ Federation Constituent Assembly on February 27, 1983, General Secretary Lucio Jimenez pointed out that the Battle for the Fourth Grade would "make every factory a classroom." This battle, he said, is a fundamental demand of the working class and necessary for the economic development of the country.

Among other educational achievements, the following are most important:


a) The increase in student population.
b) The increase in the number of elementary and secondary teachers.
c) The increase in the number of schools and classrooms, many of them in traditionally isolated and marginated areas. The number of elementary schools has doubled to 4,976.

Attention is also being given to vocational education, in service teacher training, parent orientation, the supplemental nutrition program, etc.

The high priority given to education as part of the revolutionary process is also reflected in the government budget. While the Somoza regime spent approximately 395 million cordobas on education in 1979, the present government budgeted four times that amount, 1,177 million cordobas, not including that spent on higher education.


From the beginning of the National Literacy Campaign in March, 1960, until the recent publication on March 1 of this year of "Goals, Objectives and Principles of the New Education," the educational area has been controversial. It has not escaped the deeper dimensions of the ideological struggle going on in the country.

On December 3, 1982, the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference published a Pastoral Letter on Education. The letter expresses concern that the new education implemented by the MED could undermine Christian values. At the same time, the letter called on the Nicaraguan Federation of Catholic Educators (FENEC) to draw up a Catholic Education Project. This provoked criticism by some sectors that consider that it is the State and not the Church which should take measures, provide guidelines and define goals that guarantee the education of the entire population within the framework of the overall Social Program.

On February 4, in a speech before the country's teachers during the celebration of ANDEN's (Nicaraguan Teachers Association) 4th Anniversary, Comandante Tomas Borge, Minister of the Interior, referred to the bishops' letter. After emphasizing the importance of education in the transformation of the country and reiterating that it is the State that should direct the educational process, he strongly criticized the role of the Church throughout history in what was considered to be a direct reference to the bishops' position in the pastoral letter.

Without denying those differences in opinion, there are fundamental coincidences between what the bishops call "Goals of the Catholic School" and those the ministry calls "Goals, Objectives and Principles of the New Education."

The first and fundamental coincidence emerges with respect to the objectives of education in which contact with national reality, personalization and critical capacity are essential elements. The Pastoral Letter points out:

“The fundamental objective of all genuine education is to make men and women more human..., to integrate students into the social process of the nation; that is to say, to prepare men and women who are capable of influencing their social structures to make them ever more just. This supposes a closeness to the national situation. It also implies the formation of a conscious and analytical attitude toward current events. This will be achieved if the schools can form critical men and women capable of true social commitment."

On this subject, the "Goals, Objectives and Principles of the New Education" says:

"The New Education proposes the full and integral development of the personality of the new person, continually in a process of formation, which is capable of promoting and contributing to the process of transformation which is being carried out day by day in the new society... (It proposes to) stimulate in students and teachers the capacity for analysis that is critical, self critical, scientific, participatory, creative and that will make education a liberating experience.... Nicaraguan education will be at the service of the serious social and economic problems, establishing close ties to the life and history of our nation."

The Pastoral Letter advocates the development of new values in the Nicaraguan man and woman, values which would foster an attitude of concern for others and be without selfishness and individualism:

"To educate for the service of others. Now especially we need people who are committed to the community, capable of forgetting their own interests for the sake of service to their brothers and sister.. This requires a substantial change in education. The circumstances in which we are living in Nicaragua providentially impel this. We must learn to read the signs of the times and recognize God's hand in these signs; to go forth in the world, confident that we must work together in the constructing."

The qualities the Pastoral Letter sets forth are also fundamental aspects of the "Goals, Objectives and Principles of the New Education:"

"...the qualities and values of the new Nicaraguan person are the following: to be patriotic, revolutionary, concerned for others, and committed to the interests of the workers and campesinos in particular, and with the vast majority of workers of which our people is comprised.... Responsible, disciplined, creative, cooperative, of high moral, civic, and spiritual principles .... Respectful, truthful, sincere, fraternal, modest, unselfish .... Understanding that individual interest must coincide with the social and national interest, willing to develop the highest spirit of sacrifice and self denial to defend one's country and the revolution."

The Bishops also recognize the advances and achievements in the educational terrain:

"We must recognize the positive aspects in the national education program of this new period. Among them we note: a) the realization of the National Literacy Campaign and Adult Education, which were accomplished thanks to the participation of our youth and the various countries which gave us assistance; b) the efforts which have been made to completely democratize education. We pay special attention to: the increase of more than 60% in preschool education, the increased funding for primary and secondary education, the construction of numerous education centers, the partial or complete subsidization of private education, making it possible that this will cease to be the privilege of the few... The National Council of Education ... The important growth in technical training...”

However, it would be simplistic to deduce from this that the controversies about education in Nicaragua have been resolved. The same dynamic of the revolutionary process is found in the educational arena. The different positions stem either from the desire to perfect the new socio political project or they are motivated by individual interests and express a reaction against a loss of privileges that certain sectors of the society are experiencing.

In this polemic there will be many who see a criticism of the New Nicaraguan Education in Pope John Paul II's pronouncement in Leon during his recent visit to Nicaragua. It is important to note that this pronouncement was directed to Catholic educators in Central America. Textually, the Pope said. "Today I direct myself to those in Nicaragua and the other countries of the region who are dedicated, in one form or another, to education in the faith, a task which is of concern to all Christians and one that vitally affects everyone." In a commentary on the Pope's message, Carlos Tunnermann, the Minister of Education and a devout Christian, pointed out that the Pope recognized the validity of the educational principles set forth by the MED and noted, among other observations, that the Pope's reference to the right of parents to choose their children's education is fully guaranteed in the Statute of Rights and Guarantees of Nicaraguan Citizens which has been mentioned above.

Tunnermann noted that the Pope also advocated the "integral development of the new generations" and warned that "the simple fragmentary accumulation of techniques, methods and information can not satisfy people's hunger and thirst for truth." This is an important point of coincidence between the educational ideals espoused by John Paul II and the educational philosophies of the revolution. "We also reject the concept of education as mere instruction," affirmed the Minister, "and it is because of this that the ‘Goals, Objectives and Principles’ advocates an education which forms ‘fully and integrally the personality of the new person’.”

In reference to the Pope's concern that Central American schools foster programs which are based on atheism, the Minister commented, "We believe that this isn't the case in Nicaragua because our basic laws recognize freedom of conscience and of religion (Article 8). Furthermore, Article 22 of the Statute of Rights and Guarantees of Nicaraguan Citizens prohibits propaganda against peace and any support for national, racial or religious prejudice. In the October, 1980, official communiqué on religion of the FSLN's National Directorate, it stated that Christian patriots and revolutionaries are an integral part of the Sandinista Revolution and have been for many years. The communiqué reads: "For the FSLN, religious freedom is an inalienable right that the revolutionary government fully guarantees. Furthermore, in the New Nicaragua no one can be discriminated against for publicly professing or expressing their religious beliefs." The right of religious communities to continue to impart Christian education in their schools has been explicitly guaranteed in more than 20 agreements that have been signed between the government and religious communities involved in education. In his conclusion, the Minister of Education stated that "we do not see the Sandinista vision of the new person as being opposed to the
‘Christian vision’ of persons described by Pope John Paul II as the inspiration to the activity of Catholic educators”.

This polemic continues as does the struggle to form new attitudes and values in the new society. In any case, the advances which have been made in education are self evident and undeniable. The Nicaraguan people, as both agents and beneficiaries, are the best witnesses to these changes.


The express and exclusive goal of private Catholic education in Nicaragua has been to insure that those parents who wanted a "Christian" education for their children would be able to obtain it. There are many who question whether private Catholic education has really done this. These educational centers were located in large cities and often in “exclusive” neighborhoods; tuition was charged. This raises the question of whether it was possible for most parents to choose private Catholic education for their children.

Although education is the direct responsibility of the State, private education (including Catholic education) has had and continues to have a place within the national education system. The Statute of Rights and Guarantees of Nicaraguan Citizens affirms the right of individuals or groups to establish and direct educational institutions as long as they meet the requirements set forth by the MED. The MED clearly supports religious educational institutions. Following the victory in 1979, the government made education a priority and it stated that Catholic education should continue giving its support within the national education project. For the first time in the history of private Nicaraguan education, subsidy agreements were set up that had as their goal to guarantee a free education. Through these measures, the concept of educational democracy was concretized and a real option was given to parents to choose the kind of school they thought to be most appropriate for their children.

Of the total number of students in Nicaragua, 15% attend private religious schools (90% are Catholic, the rest are divided between Moravian, Baptist and Anglican). This figure includes both primary and secondary students, the former numbering 66,791 and the latter 31,702. (Barricada, March, 12, 1983). Of the 298 private primary schools this figure also includes private non religious schools 217 are subsidized. The corresponding figure for private secondary schools is 37 out of a total of 120 schools (Statistics Department of the MED). The type of subsidy available depends on the agreement made between the educational community and the MED. The agreements establish respect for the religious orientation of the school. We have confirmed, through interviews with a number of directors of Catholic schools, that this agreement is observed. Among other things mentioned was that classes in faith education and the weekly celebration of the Eucharist take place within the school schedule approved by the MED.

Catholic education in Nicaragua does not differ from the tradition of Catholic education in Latin America. Historically, it has carried great weight and has produced many of the leaders and members of the Christian Democratic political parties of the continent. The entire educational system serves to reproduce the social base of a given socio political system. This operates in all education and has certainly been the case in Catholic education. The internal structure of a school, the values and attitudes that are fostered there, and the image of the ideal person that they hope to form, consciously or unconsciously have supported the interests of the student population of society's middle and upper classes. And even more serious is the fact that Catholic schools located in more marginal areas maintain the same formational plan and reinforce the same values that serve an elitist social project.

Vatican II, Medellin, and a more profound understanding of the social sciences have facilitated the development of a consciousness of the structural situation of the continent. This in turn has brought about a deep questioning among religious educators concerning the role of Catholic education, given the socio economic reality of the continent. A doubt has arisen as to the neutrality of education and a concern that education is used to prop up an unjust social system. It would be overly ambitious of us to try to detail the conflicts and movements this questioning has generated. But it is worthwhile to mention that the result in many cases has been a change in the social sector served by religious educators, and in other cases, a change in the educational focus within the school. The search for justice and an education oriented to the interests of the majority are the basis of what has been called Liberating Education.

This situation, which has affected the whole continent, has taken on some special aspects in Nicaragua. The political situation that the country experienced (which grew sharper in the 1970's) unified the Nicaraguan people against a common enemy. The overthrow of Somoza brought together all the diverse parties in the struggle. This proved not to be a time for significant advances in educational reflection. The political situation had neutralized the further definition of political positions.

Currently, the Catholic schools reflect the struggles of a society in the process of changing its political system. In some cases, there is a questioning of the orientation being implemented by the MED. This questioning is an expression in the educational arena of the acceptance or rejection of the social system which it is to serve.

Catholic education could play a very important role in the process that Nicaragua is currently experiencing. It could aid in the creation of the new person which the revolution promotes, a new person which in no way conflicts with the new person advocated by the gospel. At the same time as being a definite aid in social change, it could orient educational activity to the sectors of society that have to date been the most neglected. In this way, the "preferential option for the poor", which has repeatedly been cited as an essential element of Christianity in recent ecclesiastical documents, would be concretized.


It is obvious that the transformation of education carries with it, as a fundamental condition, the transformation of the teacher. The teacher must be both subject and object of the transformation. In order to correct and improve traditional pedagogy, there must be a constant and continuing process of teacher preparation.

With respect to this, in the speech to the teachers of ANDEN, Tomas Borge reminded them of their responsibility in the formation of the new person, saying, "In order to educate new generations you must begin to educate yourselves, you must clear away the clouds of political and ideological confusion, you must stand up to the ideas of the past which contaminate the beautiful ideas of the present.... Educators, you must be supporters of the participation of the people in their own education, and in specific instances, in their exercise of power and administration. You must set an example by participating and you must teach how to participate. "

Another of the serious problems that have been inherited from the past is the deficiency in the academic formation of educators which is reflected in the students. Even though overcoming this difficulty will be a long and difficult process, the MED has taken advantage of the implementation of the new educational system to provide massive in service training of teachers. Recently, primary school teachers had an intensive training session to enable them to adequately utilize the various new programs and methods.

In addition, since January 1983, ANDEN has been promoting the first national-level training course. In its first phase, 400 teachers attended a four day workshop which was the first attempt to provide teachers with the tools they need to meet the challenge of the new education. The teachers who attended this first workshop will pass on to others what they learned, and within a short time this first course will have reached all educators.

This massive national training campaign, the budget appropriations for education, and the increase in the number of schools and registered students all give evidence of the effort being made by the government in this area. The difficulties arising from the ideological struggle will surely continue in the transformation process of the educational system. The as yet unresolved low level of scholastic performance represents one of these difficulties. However, these difficulties will stimulate the goal of the revolution to give the people the tools which will enable them to be critical, conscious, free, concerned for others, and committed citizens in the forging of a new society.

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