March 13, 2018
Keybi wakes up early to roast and grind corn for tortillas, which she sells on the corner in front of the same school where her daughter attends. From her spot, she can see teachers and students filing into the building, every morning Monday through Friday… except when, often without explanation, class is canceled and the children are sent home.
In 2012, AJS carried out a study of public schools across the country and found that schools were meeting, on average, just 125 days out of the 200 days required by law. Thanks to strong advocacy and public outcry, we were able to bring that up to 200 days on average, now for five years in a row.
But despite improved averages across Honduras, some schools still cancel class much more often than they should, robbing opportunity for education from children like Keybi’s daughter. So AJS hasn’t stopped our advocacy. In communities across Tegucigalpa, we train young people, parents, and neighbors of public schools in what the law requires and how they can help ensure that schools comply with strong educational standards.
Sacrificing hours from their busy weeks, volunteers use simple information-gathering instruments to record things like how many days schools meet for class, how many classes are taught, and for how long, whether the school has textbooks and materials, and other issues important to children’s education.
In 2017, volunteer auditors prepared a detailed report of the first 40 days of class in 42 different public schools in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. While some schools performed well, others showed serious limitations. In one school in Keybi’s community, for example, nine of the first 40 days had been canceled.
However, the volunteer’s excellent information and documentation allowed them to go to education authorities with a clear demand for change. AJS facilitated meetings with school principals, and even, when issues were serious, with authorities from the Department of Education.
Community members demanded specific, targeted, measurable change – more hours in the classroom, more days in school, and fewer interruptions to the school day. After a brief period for changes to be implemented, they then measured the final 120 days of school to see if there had been improvement. The transformation has been remarkable.
“Thanks to the constant observation of schools by local auditors, we achieved an improvement in the use of class time, in interruptions during class, number of classes taught, and the length of the school day,” said Dolores Martinez, AJS staff and director of the community auditing program.
In the first 40 days of observation, 37 out of the 42 schools had missed days of class unnecessarily. In the final 120 days, by contrast, only 16 had missed days – the other 26 had zero lost class days. Overall, nearly 90% of observed schools saw an improvement in attendance and dedication of class time.
After the pressure placed by social auditors, one school gained, on average, 33 minutes of training per day. Even an average difference of 10-15 minutes per day translates to many additional hours of instruction throughout the year, and greater opportunities for Honduran children.
When the 2018 school year began in Honduras in February, the community auditors were already prepared for another year of observation and accountability. Keybi left her tortilla stand for the morning to join a dozen other women, to share stories of the difficulties they had faced, and to share dreams of the education they imagined for their children.
When asked what they might suggest changing about auditing this year, the auditors had various ideas, but one common message.
“We should not stop,” said Magda, an outspoken volunteer, “This is our right, and we should not stop.”