Caption: Jael Mendez
The team of Education Specialists make a great effort to teach us everything we need to make our schools places full of quality." - Jael Mendez, Enriquillo de Herrera School, Innovators Achieving Goals Cluster, Dominican Republic
Over the last few months, EduQuality - a program of Opportunity EduFinance - has launched in two new countries, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. A team of Education Specialists led Introductory Seminars for low-fee non-state school leaders in these two countries to enroll them. In the Dominican Republic 131 schools have joined the program and in Guatemala the team has launched with 75 schools.
The EduFinance Dominican Republic and Guatemala programs aim to improve equitable access to quality non-state primary education for children from lower-income households. The program is using a two-pronged approach to achieve this: increasing access to finance and improving the quality of education delivery to non-state primary schools.
For Spanish readers, click here to read about the EduQuality program launch in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.
Caption: Edilzar Castro
With EduQuality we are in the right place at the right time. …We must start implementing quality process in every single thing that we do every day. I challenge you to visualize the next year and make sure that the teaching practices in all our schools integrate interactive pedagogies.” - Edilzar Castro, Director of Rehabilitation and Special Education, Pro-blind and deaf committee, and leader of the P.I.E Cluster, Guatemala, addressing fellow school leaders.
To find out more we spoke to Jasmín Guzmán, Education Specialist, Dominican Republic and Luis Morales Rivera, Education Specialist, Guatemala. We asked them about their own journeys into education roles and what they hope EduFinance can bring to their countries.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO WORK IN EDUCATION?
Jazmin: I used to work in computer science. But then something amazing happened - I got the chance to become a computer science teacher. And let me tell you, it was like magic! I felt like I found my true calling, something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Teaching has always been in my blood, even from when I was a little kid. Back in my neighborhood, I would gather some kids and teach them what I was learning in school. And you know what? In high school, I was really good at math. Not many people are, right? I'd organized these little study sessions with my friends to help them out with tough math stuff. But the real turning point came when I became a teacher officially – combining my love for computer science and my passion for teaching. It's been an amazing and fulfilling ride since then!
Luis: It's a really interesting story. Originally, I was studying biological chemistry, but I needed a part-time job. So, I started working as an English teacher, and something surprising happened – I fell in love with teaching! I found my true passion in education, and it made me shift away a bit from science. I started getting more involved in the education field here in the country, and it completely changed my career path.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING IN YOUR PREVIOUS ROLE?
Jazmin: Well, here's a little bit about my journey. I used to be a teacher, but over time, I took on more responsibilities and tasks in schools, and that led me to become a school director for 9 years. When I saw an ad for a job at Opportunity International EduFinance, that caught my attention. It seemed like the perfect fit for me.
I had this strong desire to start a project to help students with their reading and writing skills. In my church, we had a lot of kids in need, and some of them were even in sixth grade but couldn't read yet. It broke my heart, and I really wanted to do something about it. As I read about Opportunity EduFinance and saw the work they do all around the world, I knew it was the perfect chance for me to start that project I had in mind. Now, with this new job, I'll finally have the time and support to make a real difference and help those children at our church. It feels like everything fell into place just right!
Luis: I was a teacher trainer, and my main job was to help English teachers in the region become certified as national English teachers. This certification allowed them to apply for teaching positions in elementary schools in either the city or the countryside. The training program lasted for one year, during which they received all the necessary tools, methods, and best practices for teaching English.
Caption: School leaders in Guatemala
WHY DO YOU THINK THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC AND GUATEMALA NEED THE EDUQUALITY PROGRAM?
Jazmin: There’s a big need for low-cost schools. Around 40% of schools had to close down during the pandemic. The schools that are still running are struggling to stay afloat. The fees they can charge are low because many families are facing financial difficulties. This means they can't afford the best teachers or provide the quality education they want to offer. It's tough for these schools because they don't get much help from the government or anyone else. They feel like no one is really looking out for them. But they are determined to keep going and do their best for the students they have. That's why it's so important for us to support them and help them become better schools, so the students can have a better education.
Luis: A few months back, my answer would have been broad, but now that I've been meeting schools and experiencing the educational system's real needs, I believe this program is crucial. It's designed to support school leaders who are struggling with the aftermath of the pandemic. For instance, I spoke to a school principal yesterday who used to have 250 students before the pandemic, but now he's left with only 38. Sadly, many parents don't see education as a priority anymore, and it's affecting private schools in the region. So, I think this program is essential in implementing new strategies to attract students back to school.
WHAT PREPARATIONS DID YOU MAKE BEFORE LAUNCHING THE PROGRAM?
Jazmin: When we introduced the EduQuality program in the Dominican Republic, it was something completely new for them. We had to directly call the school directors and leverage our partner financial institution to introduce us to schools. Then, we reached out to them to explain the program as much as possible. It wasn't easy because many directors were unsure why we were offering this and whether they had to pay, which we explained they did not.
We had to spend time explaining the financing opportunities from our partners, and how the program works globally and those who came were excited and committed. They were happy that someone was finally taking care of their needs. During the Introductory Seminar, they asked a lot of questions and wanted to know what was coming next. They even did a school quality self-assessment and realized areas where they were doing well and others where they needed to improve. It was like looking into a mirror for them, and they were very open to understanding their strengths and weaknesses.
Caption: Yelitza Santana
One of the learning points [during this launch] has been the way of knowing different criteria that will help the center to improve. Also, we can work as a group no matter if they are closed or distant schools, but we can all work as one and support each other." - Yelitza Santana, Center Co-ordinator, Colegio Evangélico Fuente del Saber, Dominican Republic
Luis: When we began the EduQuality Guatemala program, we were really excited and had big plans. We started in a large venue, but then we realized that the schools we wanted to reach preferred something smaller and more accessible. So, we switched to smaller venues that were easier for schools to get to. This made a big difference, especially considering how commuting can be challenging here.
We tried reaching schools through our website and social media, but the program being new to the country made it hard for them to trust us. We faced many rejections, but things started to change when we connected with supervisors from the Ministry of Education. With their help, schools began to see us more positively and opened their doors to us. Our Introductory Seminars didn't have a huge turnout initially, but as we went on with more seminars, more schools committed to the program, and the attendance grew. Schools began to understand what we were offering, and they started showing genuine interest in working with us.
WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE INTRODUCTORY SEMINARS?
Jazmin: Throughout the seminar, our main aim was to make sure they fully understood what the program was about and what it required from them if they wanted to be a part of it. We also wanted them to take a good look at their school's needs, so they could see how the program could be beneficial for them. I'm glad to say that we were successful in achieving these goals during the Introductory Seminars. They now have a clear understanding of the program and how it can help them and their schools.
Caption: Benjamin Valera
What I have personally learnt from this project launch is teamwork, and the fact that we should understand that every opinion of any person is valid for the development of the school.” - Benjamín Valera, Headteacher, La Casita de Nube Preschool, Dominican Republic.
HOW IS THE EDUCATION LANDSCAPE IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC AND IN GUATEMALA DIFFERENT TO OTHER COUNTRIES?
Jazmin: In the Dominican Republic, poverty is a big issue that affects education for many people. One of the main challenges is getting teachers well-prepared and qualified. Also, accessing enough resources for education is tough. Interestingly, the situation in the Dominican Republic is similar to other Latin American countries, but it might be different from countries where most schools are run by men. In the Dominican Republic, we do have some male teachers, but usually, you'll find more women as teachers and school directors.
Luis: This is a difficult question to answer because schools in Guatemala can be quite different from each other. Some may have things in common with schools in other countries, but many have their unique characteristics. When I visit schools, I see a lot of variations even within the same group. And I can imagine this happens worldwide too. From my mentoring sessions with a team member from EduFinance in Uganda, I've learned that he faces different challenges there compared to what I experience here. One advantage we have is better access to resources like laptops, mobile phones, and other tablets.
WHAT KIND OF DIFFERENCE DO YOU THINK THE EDUQUALITY PROGRAM CAN MAKE IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC AND GUATEMALA?
Jazmin: The impact of this program is going to be huge, I'm sure of it! We've already had two training sessions with school leaders, and they are really making a lot of progress. They feel so empowered now, like they can do anything. Before, they might have been a bit unsure or scared to try new things, but with this program, they feel confident and capable. They have a clear [school development] plan to follow, and they know exactly what steps to take and when. It's like they have a roadmap for success.
Before, they thought they needed a lot of money for things like marketing strategies, but now they've realized it's more about being organized and learning the right things. And guess what? They're already putting their new knowledge into action, and I believe they'll keep getting even better as time goes on. They are really excited and engaged with the program. It's giving them the tools and confidence to make positive changes in their schools. I can't wait to see all the amazing things they'll achieve! The impact is going to be tremendous!
Luis: I have so much faith in our program and what we do. I believe it will provide teachers with great tools and support. Teachers need to feel like they are part of a community, not just employees. Even if they work in small schools in remote regions, they should know the impact they have on the kids' future.
Teaching is more than just a job for a paycheck; it's about being part of a community of teachers who can help each other. I love the idea of teachers helping teachers, and our program contributes to that. I believe it will not only positively impact the teachers in the program but also the students and the communities they serve.
Read our blog about the EduQuality program launch in Western Kenya here.