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Mexico to improve the quality of education in small rural communities
Mexico will improve the quality of a path-breaking program that provides education to children in remote rural and indigenous communities with financing from a $100 million loan approved by the Inter-American Development Bank.

The funds will be used to enhance the recruitment, training and working conditions of community instructors, with the goal of improving educational achievement among the children they serve. Community instructors are typically young adults who agree to live and teach in rural communities for at least one year in exchange for a modest stipend and the promise of a scholarship to continue their education.

The instructors are hired by the Community Education Program, which was launched more than 30 years ago by CONAFE (the Spanish acronym for the National Council to Promote Education), as a response to the challenge of finding career schoolteachers willing to live and work permanently in isolated rural hamlets that are too sparsely inhabited to justify the construction of a traditional school.

Today more than 35,000 community instructors provide preschool, primary, and secondary education programs, as well as initial education and guidance on child-rearing practices for parents of children up to four years of age, in communities that request the service.

To join the program, instructors (whose average age is 20) must have completed at least 9th grade and be willing to make a one-year commitment to living and teaching in a rural community. Instructors receive intensive initial training and on-going monthly support from CONAFE tutors throughout their assignment. For every year of work in a community, the instructor receives a 30 month scholarship to finish high-school or to enroll in a post secondary program.

Having made documented progress in extending access to education to Mexico’s most marginalized communities, CONAFE is now focused on improving the educational achievement of children benefitting from its programs, since their scores on standardized tests have remained below the national average.

To that end, CONAFE will use the IDB loan to carry out a strategy focused on attracting and retaining better-qualified candidates to the Community Education Program, improving their training and professional development, and upgrading incentives and working conditions for instructors in 179 highly marginalized municipalities. The funds will also be used to improve CONAFE’s information, planning, and monitoring systems.

As a result of these measures, CONAFE expects to achieve a 10 percent increase in the number of community instructors who are retained for a second year of service in the 179 targeted municipalities, along with a 5 percent reduction in the number that abandon the program during the academic year. CONAFE also expects that average scores on Mexico’s ENLACE standardized test for students in the same municipalities will rise at least 5 percent.

This is the second IDB operation in support of CONAFE’s programs. This first, concluded in 2007, was for $210 million.

The total cost of the new program is $166.7 million, with local counterpart funds accounting for $66.7 million. The $100 million IDB loan is for 25 years with a 4.5 year grace period and an interest rate based on LIBOR.

See link at right (“An army of volunteer teachers”) for an in-depth look at the experience of two of CONAFE’s community instructors and the children they served.