IDB president promotes Panama’s education agenda

President Luis Alberto Moreno and the Panamanian Minister of Finance sign a loan for $30 million to improve education for indigenous youth

PANAMA, Panama – Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) President Luis Alberto Moreno and Panama’s Minister of Economy and Finance, Alberto Vallarino, today signed a loan agreement for $30 million to improve educational access and quality in the indigenous areas of Emberá-Wounaan, Ngäbe Buglé, and Kuna Yala. The signing ceremony was attended by Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and Minister of Education Lucy Molinar.

In the project, some 55 schools with an enrollment of 8,112 students will be grouped together in three school networks. Three “central” schools will be built to each provide services to their network, in this way expanding mid-level (grade 12) education in indigenous areas. The program will also improve education in Spanish and mathematics at the preschool level and in the first three years of basic education, and strengthen competencies and skills of teachers in teaching methodologies in these subject areas.

In addition to reviewing the government’s educational plans and programs, President Moreno, President Martinelli, and Education Minister Molinar inaugurated works to expand the General Basic Educational Center “December 24,” which cost more than $1.5 million and will benefit more than 1,500 students. The works were financed with the help of a $58 million IDB loan in a project that also includes expansion of mid-level education in 14 schools.

Panama is among the countries in Latin America with the highest investment in education relative to its GDP. In terms of spending per student, Panama also ranks above the region’s average. During the past 15 years, Panama’s spending on education has averaged 5 percent of its gross domestic product, 12 percent of its national budget, and more than 25 percent of its public social spending.

It is estimated that the loan of $30 million from the IDB's ordinary capital—in addition to local counterpart funding of $2.4 million—will benefit more than 24,000 students during the lifetime of the project. The loan term is for 20 years with a grace period of four years and an interest rate based on LIBOR (London InterBank Offered Rate).

The project will include the expansion, rehabilitation, and maintenance of some 108 classrooms in preschool, basic, and pre-middle schools in the network, and the construction of dormitories for students and teachers.

"This project will make it possible for Panama to extend its significant progress in increasing educational access and years of enrollment to the country’s indigenous areas, and in this way address the problem of inequality in education between its indigenous and non-indigenous population," said Marcelo Antinori, IDB country representative in Panama.

Indigenous peoples presently make up 10 percent of the Panamanian population, or about 380,000 people in eight ethnic groups: Ngäbe, Buglé, Kuna, Emberá-Wounaan, Bocota, Naso (Teribe), and Bri Bri. About half of the country’s indigenous people live in indigenous areas.

In addition to education-related topics, President Moreno used his visit to review works being undertaken to expand the Panama Canal. An IDB loan for $400 million, approved in 2008, is helping the Panama Canal Authority to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the waterway, which plays a key role in international trade.

After leaving Panama, President Moreno will travel to Tegucigalpa to attend the XXV Meeting of IDB Governors of the Central American Isthmus and the Dominican Republic. The meeting is being held in advance of the Annual Meeting of the IDB’s Board of Governors, which will take place in Calgary, Canada, in late March.