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Chapter 42
Early Childhood Education in Guatemala
María Eugenia Rabbe
Abstract This chapter discusses how the institutional attention to early childhood
development and education in Guatemala had to go through a process of acknowledgment of the importance of meaningful and lasting learning during the first
7 years of life, in order to include this age period in the Education Reform of 1998.
At present, the National Curriculum (2005) addresses this on two levels: the infant
and toddler years (0–3 years of age) and preschool years (4–6 years of age), stating
the relevant skills and areas of education and development. It is also discussed in
this chapter the fact that the law does not determine exactly which institutional
entity is responsible for the attention and education at those levels: the Ministry of
Education of Guatemala or the Secretary of Social Works of the First Lady, which
poses a problem affecting the service provided to children. Several studies in the
country have shown that at this point in time the coverage has not been enough and
that greater efforts are needed by the public and private sectors to guide parents,
teachers, and the community, for children to be active part of teaching and learning
process.
Keywords Guatemala • Early childhood education • Preschool education •
Research
Institutional attention to early childhood development and education in Guatemala
had to go through a process of acknowledgment of the importance of the meaningful and lasting learning of the first seven years of life, in order to include this age
level in the Education Reform (1998). Now the National Base Curriculum (2005)
addresses this on two levels: the infant and toddler years (0–3 years of age) and
preschool years (4–6 years of age), where clearly the relevant skills, areas, and profiles are explained. In this chapter, we direct attention to the fact that the law does
not determine exactly which entity is responsible for the attention and education at
those levels: the Ministry of Education of Guatemala or the Secretary of Social
Works of the First Lady, which poses a problem affecting the service provided to
M.E. Rabbe (*)
London, UK
e-mail: shenyrabbe@gmail.com
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2018
M. Fleer, B. van Oers (eds.), International Handbook of Early Childhood
Education, Springer International Handbooks of Education,
DOI 10.1007/978-94-024-0927-7_42
833
834
M.E. Rabbe
children. Several studies in the country have shown that at this point in time, the
coverage has not been enough and that greater efforts are needed by the public and
private sectors to guide parents, teachers, and the community, for children to be
active part of teaching and learning process.
Guatemala is located in Central America bordering with Mexico, Belize, El
Salvador, and Honduras. According to the projection of the last census, its population in 2011 was 14,713,763 (51% women, 49% men) (Instituto Nacional de
Estadística de Guatemala [INE] 2002).
The Peace Agreements signed in 1996 between governments and “guerrilla”
(Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Socioeconomic and
Agrarian Agreement) marked the importance of education since this is one of the
pillars to improve economic, cultural, and social levels for Guatemalans (Diseño de
la Reforma Educativa 1998). According to the Education Law (Educación Nacional
de la República de Guatemala 1991), Guatemala divides the education system in
five levels:
Initial level: 0–3 years old
Preschool level: 4–6 years old
Primary school: 7–12 years old
Secondary school: 13–18 years old
Higher education: 19 to up years old
Initial level is offered to children from 0 to 3 years old, seeking the overall development from a comprehensive family support for their full training. Its goals are to
ensure as basic responsibility of the State the full development of children, their
existence, and right to live in family and proper environmental conditions as well as
to ensure biopsychosocial child development through care programs for the mother
during pregnancy and after giving birth.
Preschool level is the educative experience of younger children before entering
the first grade, in terms of age, up to 6 years. Preschool level is oriented to developing self-esteem, certain basic skills, and behaviors, allowing them to be better emotionally and intellectually adjusted for their integration to primary school.
The current situation of children between 0 and 6 years of age in Guatemala is
not encouraging at all; according to the National Work and Income Survey (ENEI
2004), the population between these ages was 2.8 million, and of those, there were
only 50,381 children attending a specialized center (initial level, 266,754 children;
preschool level, 23,627 children) according to UNICEF (Initial Education and
Public Programs in Guatemala Society 2010).
The United Nations Children’s Fund (2008) conducted a study called “Status of
Early Childhood in Guatemala” (Situación de la Primera Infancia en Guatemala), in
which data was collected by interviewing personnel in the Department of Education
and the Secretary of Social Works of the First Lady (Secretaría de las Obras Sociales
de la Esposa del Presidente[SOSEP]). This study reported:
1. The private sector has increased the attention to early childhood, with the creation of numerous educational centers that aim for a population for children
42 Early Childhood Education in Guatemala
835
below 6 years of age, but these centers do not have proper quality standards. For
example, a large number of these establishments do not have qualified personal
to attend to this group of children.
2. The early development programs and projects supported by the Department of
Education which include the “Comprehensive Care Program for Children
(Programa de Atención Integral de Niños y Niñas [PAIN]), are actually working
with a center in each of the 22 states of the Republic of Guatemala, taking care
of around fifteen thousand children in the 328 centers. Further, there is also the
informal school program “De la mano Edúcame”, that helps 666 families in 4
states.
3.The programs and projects that are supported by the Welfare Secretary and
Secretary of Social Works of the First Lady (Secretaría de las Obras Sociales de
la Esposa del Presidente [SOSEP]) attend approximately 100 thousand children
in programs like Hogares Comunitarios (14 thousand) and Creciendo Bien (82
thousand) from 2200 communities.
The private sector has increased the attention to early childhood, with the creation of numerous educational centers that aim for a population of children below
6 years of age, but these centers do not have proper quality standards. For example,
a large number of these establishments do not have qualified personnel to attend this
group of children.
Early development programs and projects supported by the Department of
Education, which include the “Comprehensive Care Program for Children (Programa
de Atención Integral de Niños y Niñas [PAIN]), are actually working with a center
in each of the 22 states of the Republic of Guatemala, taking care of around 15,000
children in the 328 centers. Furthermore, there is also the informal school program
“De la mano Edúcame” that helps 666 families in four states.
Programs and projects that are supported by the Welfare Secretary and Secretary
of Social Works of the First Lady (Secretaría de las Obras Sociales de la Esposa del
Presidente[SOSEP]) attend approximately 100,000 children in programs like
Hogares Comunitarios (14,000) and Creciendo Bien (82,000) from 2,200
communities.
Early childhood education in Guatemala covers infant and toddler years, (ages
0–3), the preschool years (ages 3–5), and the kindergarten years (ages 5–6)
(Ministerio de Educación de Guatemala 2008). The fundamental purpose is to provide children with educational experiences in an active way, in an attempt to impact
gradually their learning processes and development. The goals of these levels are:
To develop a positive sense of themselves, by expressing and moderating their feelings and emotions, to start having initiative and self-determination, and show
positive attitude toward learning.
To be capable of taking different roles and ability to solve conflicts in games and
other activities in and/or out of school.
To acquire confidence and extend their vocabulary by expressing and having a
conversation.
The ability to comprehend the principal functions of written language.
836
M.E. Rabbe
The ability to recognize people that have different cultural backgrounds and
characteristics.
To develop cognitive capacities that allow them to use different strategies to solve
problems in a creative way.
To be interested in observing natural phenomena and participating in experimental
situations, in which they can ask, predict, compare, examine, explain, share opinions, and acquire positive attitudes toward the preservations of the environment.
Learn values and principles that are needed for respecting oneself and others.
To achieve the goals above, it is necessary to develop adequate activities, with active
and differential methodologies, considering individual and developmental characteristics, that allow for the interaction of the students and teachers in a physical
environment.
The active teaching approach followed in Guatemalan education has been constructed as the process that helps children learn in a meaningful way. By this, it is
meant that the child is the leading character of its own learning, and the teacher
provides the tools for the child’s development. Teachers propose activities, personal
or group tasks, which will develop the critical thinking as well as an effective communication in each of the phases of learning.
In early childhood education the best teaching methodology followed in learning
centers is the use of different, independent spaces that teachers set up in the classroom. In these spaces, children can move around and engage in some learning activity. Children choose the space they wish to work in and decide the amount of time
to spend there. The learning center approach provides a time in which children
explore and practice skills to their own satisfaction. These centers provide children
with opportunities for hands-on learning, cooperative learning, social interaction,
real-life problem solving, autonomous learning, and open-ended activities. Children
learn various subjects as they move from one space to another in the classroom. For
example, a subject such as life science can be presented in a life-science space in the
classroom; such a space may have living animals and plants for children to handle.
The classroom may also have an environmental space next to the life-science space.
As young children move from the life-science space to the environmental space,
they can explore the habitats of some of the animals (Harris 1999).
The differentiated teaching provides students multiple options for taking information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn. In other words, a
differentiated classroom, with the use of different spaces, provides different avenues
to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas, and to developing
products so that each student can learn effectively (How to Differentiate Instruction
in Mixed-ability Classroom 2001).
As part of a new National Curriculum, Guatemala designed in 2005 the Base
Curriculum for the infant and toddler years (0–3 years of age) and preschool years
(4–6 years of age). In this program, attention to these age levels has a double purpose: socializing and the stimulation of evolving processes (Ministerio de Educación
de Guatemala 2005). Socializing is described as a process in which rules that govern
the social harmony are incorporated and transformed, leading to a positive interac-
42 Early Childhood Education in Guatemala
837
tion with others, allowing the student to recognize his/her personal identity and as a
social human being. Stimulation of evolving processes focuses in the psychological
process that relate to the good use of knowledge outlines.
Simultaneously, socializing and stimulation of the process allow the student to
prepare for life and for the acquisition of future permanent knowledge, because it is
considered that in these stages is where the bases of human behavior are established,
and the personality is formed based on the infant neuroplasticity, which is the biological mechanism that motivates growth and development and is the one that promotes student learning (Junque and Barroso 2009).
An optimum development is guaranteed when it established the importance of
tending the needs of certain aspects such as providing preventive health services
and, specially, proper training and qualifications of the teachers who interact with
the children in order to promote the educational process since birth. In view of this,
the Framework for Curriculum Transformation (Ministerio de Educación de
Guatemala 2005) has generated ten criteria for initial (0–3 years of age) and preschool (4–6 years of age) being the main purpose to achieve educational quality
with the involvement of both teachers and parents:
The child as the center of the process
The child participation and involvement
Reinforce the child development
Respect and attention to the individual differences
Leadership and involvement from the family and the community
The environment and the child interacting as one
Cultural relevance
Holistic learning
Harmony between the activity and communication
Specific childhood game
The curriculum is based on the development of abilities defined in the proposed
curriculum (2005) as a disposition that a child has to develop in order to deal with
and find solutions to everyday problems and create new knowledge that will help
the child to achieve a permanent and meaningful learning. The curriculum has been
organized in five areas:
Learning skills
Communication and language
Social and natural environment
Artistic expression
Physical education
The curriculum establishes a minimum of 2 h of daily activities, during 5 days a
week. Class periods last between 25 and 30 min. Regarding children’s evaluations,
personal records are used to appraise the maturity of each child to be able to promote him/her to the next grade, as long as they fulfill the requirements related to
their age (Ministerio de Educación de Guatemala 2010).
838
M.E. Rabbe
It is important to note that there are no fundamental agreements between the
Welfare Secretary, Secretary of Social Works of the First Lady (Secretaría de las
Obras Sociales de la Esposa del Presidente [SOSEP]), and the Ministry of Education
of Guatemala. The first supports early education and grants permits for the operation of initial care centers (Government Decision No. 662–90 1990); however, it
was the Ministry of Education of Guatemala, within the National Base Curriculum
(2005), who included the educational model that should orient the development of
this level. In daily practice, however, in beginning levels of school, the Welfare
Secretary and Secretary of Social Works of the First Lady (Secretaría de las Obras
Sociales de la Esposa del Presidente [SOSEP]) do not check whether they comply
with the model presented by the Ministry of Education of Guatemala. Likewise, it
may be noted that these centers provide “care” to children but this does not include
providing proper stimulation for cognitive, social, and emotional growth.
Another very important factor, in the development of initial and preschool levels,
is that although under the Curricular Transformation (2005) detailed the principles
for an educational process according to the particular needs of students, they are not
met within the methodology developed in the classroom, as teachers in the public
sector have shown resistance to change and have not wanted to implement strategies
that will take the kids to the powers that arise. With this in mind, the Ministry of
Education of Guatemala is making efforts to conduct various trainings, aimed at
teachers of this sector, so they can use innovative strategies in the educational process, which are described in the National Base Curriculum (2005). At the beginning
of 2014, he made alliances with three private universities (Universidad del Valle de
Guatemala, Universidad Panamericana, Universidad InterNaciones) onto them to
direct the training throughout the Republic of Guatemala, with a new mode of
teaching learning face classes once a month on weekends and distance tutoring,
through an educational platform through internet.
In conclusion, we can infer that the lack of knowledge of the National Base
Curriculum, among teachers, has made the early childhood education in Guatemala,
continues to have little impact on the children, and, perhaps in the future, may be a
factor in determining the failure coverage of elementary level.
The following section discusses current contemporary research in Guatemala in
relation to early childhood education.
42.1 Research on Early Childhood Education
In order to improve preschool education, the research that has been done in
Guatemala, in general, aims to develop projects that can improve coverage and provide guidelines to support the immersion of children in the schooled and informal
programs modalities, both defined in the National Base Curriculum, preschool level
(Ministerio de Educación de Guatemala 2005). The schooled modality, that is, preschool education, is developed within a formal and academic environment involving
well-trained personnel, with specific schedule, in a part-time working day, whereas
42 Early Childhood Education in Guatemala
839
in day care centers, children centers or private foster homes are open for 8 h or
more. Personnel responsible for the schooling attention are the preschool monolingual and bilingual teachers1 as well as the teachers for the different programs and
projects of governmental organizations or nongovernmental organizations. The
informal program is defined as the one that is developed with the direct, active, and
organized participation from the family and the community, adopting their program
and taking into account the local characteristics and necessities, in the teaching
aspects, flexible schedules, and other needs.
Figueroa Castro (2007) in his study “Acculturation and Identity Formation
Process in the Child Preschool Education through Traditional Popular Culture” was
able to verify that even though the preschool education is the most important stage
of childhood because of its influences in the formation and development of the
child, it is not properly oriented in terms of the formation of the child’s identity.
According to Figueroa Castro, this is due to the fact that the content of the schooling
and teaching approach follows programs that have been developed in other ­countries
and are not adapted to the Guatemalan culture. The author concluded that 74% of
preschool teachers do not know the Guatemalan culture (anecdotes, riddles, tongue
twister, music, oral and written traditions, tourist places, literature, theater, sayings,
proverbs, social events, festivals, pilgrimages, habits, memories, heroes, etc.) so that
they reinforce in their students foreign acculturation and the loss of national identity. Preschoolers, influenced by family, school, and social media, embrace other
foreign cultures and do not appreciate the values, customs, and traditions of
Guatemala culture. In the sample, 94% chose foreign values, customs, and/or traditions, while 6% chose Guatemalan values, customs, and/or traditions.
During 2011, a pilot project was held in three “Caritas Centers” (Christian
Foundation) (Rabbe 2011) to measure the cognitive capacity of children 3–6 years
old. Some of the conclusions of this research were that 3-year-old children showed
a deficiency in the area of gross motor abilities, as a result of their low levels of
physical activity, which also had a direct relationship with the bone and muscular
development and the deficit of iron and protein in their bodies (Nelson and Luciana
2001). The results showed that children who have had the opportunity to attend to a
special center like preschool, where they received some stimulation, were closer to
reaching the corresponding developmental standards. However, due to the possible
precarious condition of food, living, and basic services, their cognitive development
still showed significant deficiencies, as well as in the visual and motor areas (Rabbe
2011).
In 2012, Hormel Foods Corporation, approved by the US Department of
Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Public Health and Social Assistance of
Guatemala, conducted research on the effectiveness of fortified SpammyTM (canned
turkey pate) in the physical and cognitive development of children from 3 to 6 years
old. To evaluate cognitive development, they used the Bracken Basic Concept Scale-­
In Guatemala, 21 Mayan idioms are spoken in different regions of the country, and bilingual
teacher means that he/she has to dominate Spanish and at least one Mayan language (Diseño de
Reforma Educativa 1998).
1
840
M.E. Rabbe
Third Edition: Receptive (BBCS-3:R) Revises (2008). This test measures children’s
comprehension of basic and functionally relevant educational concepts such as colors, letters, numbers/counting, sizes/comparisons, shapes (School Readiness
Component [SRC]), direction/position, self/social awareness, and texture/material
(Total Test [TT]). Children in the sample improved in conceptual knowledge over
the 20 week intervention. This result showed significant improvements in the School
Readiness Component (SRC) and Total Test (TT) raw scores (Rabbe 2012).
The researchers also noted that age-adjusted standardized SRC scores improved
to a greater degree than anticipated. The SRC focuses on knowledge associated with
success in early formal education such as counting, shapes, letters, and numbers;
regarding this, greater than expected improvement were found in both treatment and
control groups. This improvement may be due to the focus on these concepts at the
day care center, the provision of high-quality protein at the beginning of the school
day, increased vitamins and mineral intake intrinsic to poultry, or most likely, a
combination of several of these factors. This information, combined with teacher
reports that children improved their attention after consuming a meal containing
SpammyTM, provides compelling evidence for the importance of combining educational programs with improved nutrition for this age group. Within the treatment
group, positive relationships were found between end line vitamin D and cognitive
gain as well as end line ferritin and cognitive gain. Within the control group, no
significant correlations were found between end line blood micronutrient levels and
gain scores (Center for Studies of Sensory impairment aging and metabolism
[CeSSIAM] 2012).
An important point to mention is that for a long time, several government institutions have proposed legislation for the provision of preschool education, but parents
still have not seen the importance to take their young children to schools, and they
prefer to keep them at home, until they have the age to begin reading and writing.
However when children reach the age, parents then decide that it is most important
to teach them how to work so they will be able to help in the family economy.
To encourage the involvement of parents and to convince them of the importance
why their young children must attend school, the new National Curriculum (2001)
provides guides that include the use of regional language, give information to parents and community, build more schools, and design professional development programs for preschool teachers.
In summary, the research discussed here shows that Guatemalan public and private institutions are worried about early childhood education in the country and are
developing programs to improve it. There are efforts for designing a new curriculum. Every school has to develop a curriculum according to the Basic National
Curriculum. However, to be implemented, it requires the commitment of teachers
and communities, besides of assigning economic resources. Economic resources,
however, remain a major challenge that the country faces.
42 Early Childhood Education in Guatemala
841
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