Photograph taken by Catriona Spaven-Donn
On 24th January, UNESCO marked the International Day of Education by emphasising the importance of education for achieving humanistic approaches, environmentally sustainable solutions, income equality and violence prevention. The 2020 theme of “learning for people, planet, prosperity and peace” seeks to address these particular issues facing us as we enter the third decade of the 21st Century.
In practice, how can education enable progress to meet the Sustainable Development Goal targets by 2030? What does learning for people, planet, prosperity and peace look like in those parts of the world where barriers block the path to education? SDG 4, ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, faces the considerable challenge of 265 million children out of school around the world and 617 million youth without basic maths and literacy skills.
One of these places where barriers inhibit educational access is the Central American nation of Guatemala. According to USAID, “in Guatemala, more than two million out-of-school youth between the ages of 15 and 24, including 600,000 in the Western Highlands, do not have basic life or vocational skills to enter the workforce.”
In the small community of Chajul in the Western Highlands, only 5% of youth graduate from high school. Reliant on subsistence agriculture, but impacted by unpredictable weather cycles and reduced crop yields, this area of Guatemala has seen one of largest exoduses of young people migrating to the USA in search of work. The reality of environmental degradation and a lack of vocational skills development and subsequent job opportunities is felt keenly here in Chajul. The need to “preserve the planet and build shared prosperity” is indeed acute and pressing.
The Ixil Region, of which Chajul forms one of the three municipalities, was one of the worst hit during Guatemala’s 36-year Civil War. Civilians caught between government forces and guerrilla fighters often went into hiding in the mountains, resulting in an entire generation who never attended school and cannot read or write. Since the Peace Accords were signed in 1996, there has been a process of rebuilding democratic institutions and justice systems, but the geographically and socially marginalised Indigenous Maya Ixil population still live with the inherited impacts of trauma and protracted armed conflict.
The Guatemalan education system is reliant upon rote learning and lacks a wide-ranging general studies programme. The most common high school certificates here are secretarial programmes teaching typing and archiving or infant education degrees, in a region where there are at least 10 qualified teachers for every available teaching post. The 2020 theme of empowering people and fostering peace, or achieving reconciliation and integrated and creative educational approaches, are also clearly relevant to the Ixil context.
So, again, how can education enable progress to meet the Sustainable Development Goal targets by 2030? How can effective learning environments, a greater number of scholarships, and an increased supply of qualified teachers make a difference here in the Ixil Region, where the need is both evident and urgent?
To read more about Limitless Horizons Ixil’s work and support educational access for Maya Ixil youth in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, please visit: