Wednesday, September 14, 2005

No black shoes? Then no schooling

Human Rights Watch has issued a report on barriers to the right to education across the globe. One of the countries HRW studied was El Salvador, where it found that various fees imposed by schools frustrate the supposed right to a free education in the country:

In El Salvador, state schools must by law provide basic education, first through ninth grade, free of charge. Nevertheless, many schools charge matriculation fees or "voluntary"” monthly assessments. Although schooling is free in theory, in reality, the costs for families can be prohibitive. Taking into account all costs associated with education, —matriculation fees, "“voluntary"” contributions to school events, and the cost of uniforms, school supplies, and transportation to and from school, —ILO-IPEC has estimated in 2002 that the annual cost of schooling in El Salvador was 2,405 colones (US$274.86) per child -- —or nearly four times the minimum monthly wage for an agricultural worker.

Most schools in El Salvador require students to wear uniforms, adding an additional expense for students. Pedro explained to Human Rights Watch: "“The shirt costs $3. Pants are $6. Black shoes -- —it depends what one buys. On average they are 150 ($17.14) or maybe 100 colones ($11.43)." Some schools do not permit students to attend if they do not wear a uniform. In particular the requirement that students wear black shoes caused worry among the children we interviewed, probably because black shoes are the most expensive part of the school uniform. Ignacio, fourteen, said, "We need black shoes. I need to save money to buy them. They'll throw me out of school because I have these," he said, pointing to his shoes. "“They'’ll throw me out of school because they want black ones and I have white ones." He said that he had been attending classes for ten days, but the principal had recently told him that he could not continue to come to school without black shoes.

Such problems must be addressed. Until the government of El Salvador decides to make serious investments in basic human development issues like education, safe drinking water and health, the country will not see any improvement in its standing on the United Nations Human Development Index. Incidentally, Tony Saca addresses the UN General Assembly later this week.

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