Problem: In Nicaragua, 41% of the population lives in rural areas, where access to secondary education is almost nonexistent. In these communities, only 35.6% attended high schools in 2001. Of the 1.4 million school age children (10-19 years old) in the country, UNICEF estimates that 50% are excluded from secondary education, and only a third finish high school. Rural areas are home to 63% of the poor and 78% of the extremely poor population of the country. This situation leads to migration to big cities, or immigration. Between 2002 and 2007, 500,000 people aged between 18 and 30 left the country to seek employment. The Tutorial Learning System (SAT), which began in 2007, is an innovative rural education program, which provides specific learning opportunities for rural populations. The non-formal education model, recognized by the Ministry of Education, provides access to education for rural young people and adults in their own communities. It allows them to study while continuing their agricultural activities and earning a living.
Solutions: The innovative teaching program is based on four pillars: math, science, language and communication, and community service. The methodology is based on learning by doing, with the use of educational resources that integrate theory and practice. Teachers are trained to act as tutors, working with the content of the school curriculum and of rural life, such as agricultural practices and leadership skills, in a multidisciplinary way. While studying, students work on plantations or create business plans to sell their produce. Classes can take place in a public space such as a community hall or a square, or can be given at the home of one of the students.
A major focus is the identification of economic opportunities in communities and the development of small businesses, such as sustainable plantations or animal breeding. Management is done by the students themselves in cooperatives. The idea is that young people become agents of change where they live. They organize agricultural and craft fairs, as well as services such as cleaning and repairs in the community, and public health campaigns. The project also organizes training courses and encourages entrepreneurial efforts, connecting student producers to markets and buyers.
Outcomes: Educational and employment opportunities in rural areas can help reduce migration and immigration. In addition, qualified individuals contribute to improving the quality of life in isolated rural communities. Since the implementation of the project, at least 12 companies created and operated by students are already in operation. In 2013, 40 tutors were trained, 754 students enrolled in the program and 115 students started income-generating initiatives to support their families and increase rural economic development. The project reaches 40 needy communities. The 2012 Tinker Foundation/UPenn study, showed that 100% of graduates of the program were employed. According to the survey, graduates displayed values, ethics and civic engagement. By 2013, more than 9,000kg of fruit and vegetables had already been sold to school lunch programs in the regions served by the project. The program was one of the 2013 Wise Award finalists.