All over Nicaragua, students are getting back in the daily routine of waking up early to head to class. The Nicaraguan school year starts in February and ends in November, so students are finishing up what in the U.S. we would consider to be “Summer vacation.” The majority of the projects we support here at Sister Communities are education-focused, so this is a busy time of year for us, too. As we finish up our third school construction project just in time for the new school year and start visiting our 23 sister schools, it seems like a good time to share a little about what school is like here in Nicaragua.
For most students, class started on February 13th, though in the rural communities, many students won’t actually enroll until the beginning of March, when migrant families return home from coffee picking. That’s just one of many differences between urban schools and rural schools.
For the average urban kid, the school day starts out with a cold morning shower (hot water is not very common in Nicaragua). Next, she gets dressed in her school uniform: a white button-down and a blue pleated skirt. (For boys, it’s a white button-down and blue pants. School uniforms are the same all over the country, and even though they are not legally required in public schools, most parents would be ashamed to send their kid to school in street clothes.) After a breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans), tortilla, and coffee, she walks to her school or takes public transportation, and the tardy bell rings at 7:15am. The school day ends at 12:15pm because the Ministry of Education doesn’t have the budget to offer school lunches, though elementary school students receive a mid-morning “snack,” of rice, beans, and porridge provided by the Ministry of Education.
For high schoolers in the city, there are lots of options for study. Most kids want to study in the morning, but if they have to work to help their families, they can study in the afternoon from 12:45pm-5:15pm, or at night, from 6:00pm-9:15pm. There are also Saturday and Sunday classes, for those who have a full-time job during the week.
In the rural areas, the school day is a bit different. Kids in rural communities are expected to help out with household chores like collecting firewood, cooking, cleaning, and caring for younger brothers and sisters, so their day begins much earlier than the average urban kid. After taking a bucket bath or going to the river to bathe, kids may or may not eat breakfast before they head to school for their classes. Most can’t afford school uniforms, though you sometimes see rural kids wearing an ill-fitting blue skirt or pants with a white shirt. Most rural schools don’t have a teacher for every grade, so multi-grade classrooms are common. Just like in the city, the school day is from 7:15am to 12:15pm. In these schools, the mid-morning snack may be the only meal a kid gets all day.
This, of course, is a school day for elementary school children. In most rural communities, kids are expected to work to help their families after elementary school. Usually, the only option for high school is to travel to the city on Saturdays or Sundays. That’s why SCSRN has teamed up with the Ministry of Education in San Ramón to support MinEd’s Rural High School program. This program offers high school classes in elementary schools in central rural communities on Saturdays, so that students don’t have to travel as far to get a high school education. As part of our High School for All campaign, we built two high school classrooms in El Roblar this year, a central rural school that receives students from over ten communities on Saturdays for high school classes. You can learn more about High School for All here.
So for all of you students out there reading this, when you wake up groggy and don’t want to go to school, think about the kid in rural Nicaragua who is pouring cold water over his head as he scrubs up before going to class. He may be the first person in his family to learn how to read and write. Here at SCSRN, we think that his education, just like yours and that of everyone, is an important part of making the world a better place – how about you?