Finding New Ways to Retain Teachers in Rural Mexico

In remote villages of rural Mexico, home to the country’s poorest and most marginalized populations, one of the biggest challenges to improve the quality of education decrease the attrition rate for those who teach there.

Domingo Ruperto Díaz González, an 18-old primary teacher in Las Pilas, a rural village in the Mexican state of Chiapas, may hold the key to help solve the problem.

Díaz González teaches 10 children at a school that has no plumbing or electricity. He is taking part in the Community Education Program aimed at reducing the 30 percent attrition rate for community instructors. Thepath-breaking program targets isolated hamlets like Las Pilas that are too sparsely inhabited to justify the construction of a traditional school.

Because it is so difficult to find career school teachers willing or able to work in such areas, the program relies on voluntary instructors who, like Diaz González, are usually young adults with the necessary skills who agree to live and teach in rural communities for at least one year in exchange for a modest stipend and a scholarship to continue their education once they complete the program.

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Mexico is seeking to enhance incentives to retain teachers in the program after a baseline survey done in cooperation with the IDB identified reasons why they leave. This reasons include the stipend being insufficient to cover living expenses, difficulties adapting to life in the community where they’ve been assigned, or family problems.

Why are Mexico's volunteer rural teachers leaving their jobs?As a result of the survey, Mexico, with the help of the IDB, has now increased the stipend by 50 percent for all instructors in the 172 most marginalized communities and is also testing different payments schedules. One group, in which Díaz González is included, is receiving lump-sum payments in addition to the regular monthly stipend at the beginning of every quarter, while another group is receiving the equivalent amount distributed in equal payments at the end of every month. The goal is to find out whether more cash in the hands of instructors helps them better allocate their resources and be able to afford goods and services that help reduce their hardship while living in their assigned community.

However, the program also recognizes that beyond any monetary issues, the isolation and challenges of the rural environment can sometimes prove too harsh for even the most committed volunteers like Díaz González. One response has been to give teachers a “perseverance sheet” that recognizes them for their effort and upgrades their status every two months with titles that start with “apprentice” and graduate to “hero” if they remain until the end of the school year.

Both the stipend and the perseverance sheet initiatives will be rigorously evaluated, with reports expected to be ready by mid-2013. The findings may help not only Mexico but also other countries in the region seeking cost-effective ways to decrease teacher attrition in hard-to-teach posts. Ensuring that teachers can meet their basic needs is part of the solution, but finding innovative ways to say thank you for their dedicated work may well be just as important.