7. Education and skills formation for development in El Salvador

Transforming the education and skills system in El Salvador is critical to promoting equity in access to education, and to improving future outcomes for the country’s young people, both in education and the labour market. As a driver of social mobility, education provides a unique opportunity to mobilise national resources efficiently, with long-term benefits for future generations. Improving educational outcomes, and raising educational attainment, serve to expand the skill set of individuals, to make workers more productive, and to promote economic development. Education not only fuels economic growth: it is also associated with social and economic well-being, and better health outcomes (Nozal, Martin and Murtin, 2019[1]). Investment in education also requires structural and organisational frameworks to enhance the performance of the education system. For example, higher attendance in quality pre-primary education, and targeted in-service teacher training, can boost students’ learning outcomes.

While El Salvador has made substantive progress, especially with regard to enrolment, low attainment levels and high rates of dropout continue to limit opportunities for the development of human capital in the country. Compared to international benchmarks, children and young people do not stay in school long enough to obtain the necessary skills and qualifications to be competitive in the labour market. The quality of education and the learning environment can create inequality across the education system, as evidenced by gaps across gender and rural-urban lines. Furthermore, the benefits of staying longer in school are weakened by financial and opportunity costs for vulnerable populations, especially those living in violence-affected areas.

This chapter analyses the causes behind these challenges, identifies policy priorities, and provides recommendations to boost the education and skills system in El Salvador. The chapter is organised into five sections. First, it reviews the main educational challenges in El Salvador in terms of access, completion and financing. Compared to other countries in the region, the expansion of pre-primary education amounts to significant progress in El Salvador. In contrast, the degree to which students progress through and remain in secondary school – which in the terminology of the Salvadoran school system equates to the third cycle of basic education (educación básica), plus middle school (educación media) – pose a fundamental challenge for increasing educational attainment in the country.

The rest of the chapter focuses on four priority areas for action. After describing the education system and its main successes and challenges in the first section, the second section proposes to strengthen access to quality early-childhood education in order to lay the foundations for lifelong learning, and to reduce social inequality. The third section analyses barriers to school progression, with a focus on secondary school. The fourth section examines two critical areas for the quality of education, namely policies with regard to teachers, and the quality of learning environments. The fifth section focuses on the pertinence of education, and the potential of the technical and vocational training system to endow young people with skills and competencies that will immediately be valuable on the labour market. In light of El Salvador’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all”, this chapter focuses on the priority areas that can have a major impact on improving opportunities for all children and youths. As such, university education is intentionally not addressed in this chapter, so as to focus on strengthening the earlier foundational stages of the education system.

After suffering from the global crisis of 2008, development in El Salvador has been characterised by a slow recovery and persistently low levels of growth in gross domestic product (GDP). This has contributed to high levels of youth unemployment, violence, and insecurity, which have affected the bottom 40% of the population disproportionately (World Bank, 2019[3]). Successive national development plans – the Plan Global Anti-Crisis 2009-2011, the five-year plans (Planes Quinquenales de Desarrollo) 2010-14 and 2014-19, and the National Plan for Social Development, Social Protection and Social inclusion (Plan Nacional de Desarrollo, Protección e Inclusión Social) 2014-2019, aimed to reduce poverty, socio-economic inequality, and social exclusion, by emphasising the quality of public services, including education.

The generalised expansion of access to education in the past two decades is one of the greatest achievements of El Salvador’s education system. Thanks to strong political will, and supported by policy and institutional changes, 1.06 million children and youths were enrolled in education in 2020, from kindergarten to upper secondary, and in 5 145 educational centres (UNDP, 2021[4]).

Increasing access to education for the most vulnerable populations has been a priority in the education plans of successive governments in El Salvador (World Bank, 2020[5]). Public funding for education contributed to a major boost in educational resources in 2009, with a focus on targeting areas where schools were failing. The Plan Global Anti-Crisis, for example, dedicated resources to a school meals programme (the Programa de Alimentación Escolar), to educational transfers that take place through the Comunidades Solidarias Rurales conditional cash-transfer programme, to school kits (paquetes escolares), and to financing for community-based schools (MH, 2009[6]). El Salvador’s 2009-14 strategy for the education sector (Vamos a la Escuela) articulated comprehensive reforms of secondary school, with the objective that all children have access to, and complete, quality secondary education, with support from donors (World Bank, 2011[7]; World Bank, 2019[3]; World Bank, 2020[5]). This sectoral strategy was combined with the creation of anti-violence policies in priority areas, such as the Safe El Salvador plan (the Plan El Salvador Seguro, or PESS), which provided support to full-time public and private schools to reduce the numbers of young people that get involved with gangs. The Inclusive Full-Time School (Escuela Inclusiva de Tiempo Pleno, or EITP) model was a key programme in the strategy to improve community-based governance and educational equity for economically disadvantaged children.

The legal and institutional framework for education in El Salvador is the result of a number of consecutive processes of reform. The current regulatory framework, which is based on the 1983 Constitution of the Republic of El Salvador, originated with the process of education reform that was initiated after the 1992 peace accords. It led to the approval of three main laws: the General Education Law, the Teaching Career Law, and the Higher Education Law. The 1996 General Education Law (the Ley General de Educación) (Asamblea Legislativa, 1996[8]) is the framework legislation for the sector. It establishes the distinction between formal modalities of education, which are provided in educational establishments and lead to degrees and diplomas, and non-formal education, which is offered in order to complete people’s knowledge and training, but without being subject to a system of levels and degrees. The law also dictates the organisation of the formal school system, which is governed by the Ministry of Education. Dating from 1996, El Salvador’s Teaching Career Law, the Ley de la Carrera Docente, establishes the requirements for teaching, the process of registrating to teach, and the attribution of positions in public schools (Asamblea Legislativa, 1996[9]). The 1995 Higher Education Law governs all higher education in the country and the institutions that provide it, including technical training institutions (Asamblea Legislativa, 1995[10]).

The formal education system has a centralised structure, with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology as the highest authority for all levels of education. However, it has followed a process of administrative decentralisation. Decisions on curriculum development and other education policies are centralised, and apply at the national level. In contrast, schools have some autonomy with regard to administrative management and responsibility. They are responsible for planning and managing the financial resources of the school, and they play an important role in recruitment and human resources (although they do not have the power to recruit teachers according to the Teaching Career Law) (Edwards, Martin and Flores, 2015[11]; Alberti, 2018[12]). Public schools (which are also called official schools), are administered by a governing board, which is in charge of organising the participation of the educational community, teachers, students and parents. The deconcentrated structure of the Ministry of Education, through its departmental education directorates, provides support to schools, and acts as an intermediate level of management in some processes. In 2021, there were 5 935 education establishments in El Salvador, most of them public (86%). This included 180 public centres managed by the Catholic Church (and administered by their director and a Catholic School Education Council). It also encompassed 24 centres with different modes of administration (e.g. managed by other state agencies, such as education centres in detention centres) (MINED, 2022[13]).

Initial teacher training is provided by 16 universities and higher education institutions, under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. Since the closure of the system of teacher-training colleges (Escuelas Normales) in 1980, teacher training was provided by technical institutes and private universities, but with very mixed results in terms of quality. The education reform that followed the civil war introduced a rigid three-year syllabus, with a centralised curriculum and a system of monitoring and supervision by the Ministry of Education. In order to further deepen this reform, the National Institute for Teacher Training (the Instituto Nacional de Formación Docente, or INFOD) was created in 2018 (Asamblea Legislativa, 2018[14]). The INFOD was created as a higher education institution for teacher training. However, right from its first conceptualisation, and also in practice, it can play an important role in training teacher-trainers, and in curricular and pedagogical research (Luna and Candray, 2019[15]).

Several bodies have played co-ordinating roles with regard to education issues over the past decade. The National Education Council (Consejo Nacional de Educación, or CONED) was created in 2015 (by Executive Decree no. 57), as a consultative body on education, and as a space for broad dialogue for the formulation of consensus on education policies. CONED is a dialogue forum with broad membership, and its creation sought to transcend the scope of the Ministry of Education – and even that of a single presidential term – by drawing on the broad participation of education experts from various fields, as well as international organisations and supporting countries, in addition to various state institutions. It had the same name as that of a National Education Council, which went by the acronym of CNE, and was created in 2009 as an advisory institution to the Ministry of Education, with a much narrower scope of work and membership. CONED's work led in particular to the formulation of the Educated El Salvador Plan (Plan El Salvador Educado), an education plan with a 10-year horizon (2016-26). Its work covered diverse issues in education along six main axes (CONED, 2016[16]). CONED’s last reported activity was the publication, in December 2018, of a progress report on the Educated El Salvador Plan, which it addressed to the then President of the Republic. CONED has not been active as a space for dialogue since 2019.

This legal framework is complemented by legislation that has a broader scope in the protection of childhood and adolescents. The 2009 Law on the Comprehensive Protection of Childhood and Adolescence (the Ley de Protección integral de la Niñez y la Adolescencia, or LEPINA) guarantees the right to free and compulsory education. The law was reformed in 2022 as the Growing Together Act (Ley Crecer Juntos). The LEPINA law also establishes the rights of children and adolescents, bringing Salvadoran law into line with international standards - and especially the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which El Salvador ratified in April 1990. LEPINA created a national system for the comprehensive protection of children and adolescents, with a National Council for Childhood and Adolescence (Consejo Nacional de la Niñez y la Adolescencia, or CONNA) as its highest authority. CONNA is an autonomous body, but through the Ministry of Education it establishes links to, and co-ordinates with, other entities. With the implementation of the Growing Together Act from January 2023, the powers of CONNA are passed on to a National Council on Early Childhood, Childhood and Adolescence (Consejo Nacional de la Primera Infancia, Niñez y Adolescencia, or CONAPINA), which also absorbs the powers of the Salvadoran Institute for Comprehensive Development of Childhood and Adolescence (Instituto Salvadoreño para el Desarrollo Integral de la Niñez y Adolescencia or SNA) as manager of the network of early childhood service providers.

The legal and institutional framework for vocational education and training in El Salvador is separate from that of education. The 1993 Vocational Training Law (Ley de Formación Profesional) establishes a system of vocational training, including the Vocational Training Institute (Instituto Salvadoreño de Formación Profesional, or INSAFORP) (Asamblea Legislativa, 1993[17]). The law explicitly excludes from its scope all technical education programmes that are authorised by the Ministry of Education. In turn, INSAFORP was created as an autonomous institution reporting to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. INSAFORP's powers include the design and regulation of vocational training. This includes the provision of training, and the accreditation and certification of training provided by third parties.

Co-ordination between different systems of education and vocational training, especially between the sectors of technical education and vocational training, has recently been improved through institutional reforms. The progress that was made in recent years, especially with the support of the second Fondo del Milenio El Salvador (FOMILENIO II) programme, led, in 2019, to the elaboration of a policy for the co-ordination of technical education, vocational training, and the productive sector (the Política de articulación de la educación técnica, la formación profesional y el aparato productivo) (FOMILENIO et al., 2019[18]). This policy establishes lines of action to overcome the segmentation of professional and vocational training. As part of the implementation of this policy, an institutional co-ordination structure was established. This is headed by the Co-ordination Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (the Consejo de Coordinación de la Educación Técnica y la Formación Profesional, or CCETFP). It also includes sectoral skills committees. It is worth noting that, with the activities of the FOMILENIO II programme having now come to an end, the momentum of this effort to establish linkages between the education and training systems seems to have waned. There is no mention of the co-ordination bodies in the Ministry of Education’s strategic planning document (Plan Togoroz) (MINED, 2021[19]). There is also no mention of the CCETFP in the 2020 and 2021 annual reports of the Ministry of Education or INSAFORP.

After the education reform that followed the civil war, and which was implemented from 1995 onwards, successive reform plans have lacked continuity, and have been implemented only in part. In the post-war period, five education plans with different characteristics have marked the evolution of education policy. El Salvador’s ten-year reform plan 1995-2004 for education established as priorities an increase in coverage and quality, and institutional modernisation. It did this under the aegis of of the legal framework of the post-civil war reforms, which to a large extent still prevails. Subsequently, the Plan 2021 (2004-21) was conceived as a long-term blueprint, and also as a continuation of the ten-year plan. Its objective was to increase educational attainment and to enhance the competitiveness of the education system, with a horizon set for the bicentenary year of El Salvador's independence. However, El Salvador’s Social Education Plan (or Plan Social Educativo), which is called “Let’s go to school!” (Vamos a la Escuela), and which aligned with the 2009-14 five-year presidential term, proposed a radical change in education, both from a curricular and an organisational point of view, meaning that Plan 2021 was abandoned in practice. The Social Education Plan proposed discipline-based learning rather than subject-based teaching, with the formation of teaching teams and the development of a full-time inclusive school. This implied profound changes in the organisation of teaching and the school environment. The education plan for the five-year period 2014-19, despite being presented as a continuation of the Social Education Plan, did not contain structural changes of the same scope (MINED, 2015[20]). In this context, the formulation by CONED of the Educated El Salvador Plan again sought to establish a long-term vision (through to 2026), based on a broad process of consultation. The Educated El Salvador Plan is structured around six challenges: i) violence-free schools; ii) teaching quality; iii) comprehensive early-childhood development; iv) increasing educational attainment (to 12 years of schooling); v) higher education, productivity and competitiveness; and vi) infrastructure. As for the five-year period 2019-24, the Togoroz Plan, which was published in 2021, is presented not as a global education plan, but as an institutional strategic plan for the Ministry of Education. Despite this, it sets objectives for 2030, and takes up some of the areas of action of previous plans.

The legal framework for education has evolved to further support policies for inclusive, quality education, in accordance with international standards. The Constitution of 1983, and the General Law on Education, establish the right to pre-school and basic education for the whole population of El Salvador. The state is responsible for offering free education (Asamblea Legislativa, 1996[8]). The LEPINA is more detailed. It established the right to free and compulsory education, including initial education, pre-primary education, basic education, and middle school. In addition, it established the framework for special education for children with disabilities (Asamblea Legislativa, 2009[21]).

The current structure of the education system was set up by the General Law on Education of 1996, and the reforms that it put in place. Free and compulsory education starts at four years of age (parvularia) and runs until the end of basic education (the tercer ciclo), which corresponds to lower-secondary education) (Box 7.2 and Figure 7.1). Relative to education systems in other countries, El Salvador has one of the lowest starting ages for compulsory education in the world, and one of the longest durations, with three years of pre-primary education (UNESCO, 2021[22]). However, compulsory education for adolescents, with nine years of basic education (cycles one to three), is relatively short. Most countries in the region (30 out of 41) have more than nine years of compulsory basic education and include middle school as the upper end of compulsory education. This corresponds to upper-secondary schooling in the 2011 International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED 2011).

Building on the strong education framework established since the 1992 Peace Accords, El Salvador aimed to address major challenges in terms of access to, and the quality and equity of, education. Access to primary school increased during the 1990s and 2000s, from initially low net enrolment rates, rising from 72.8% in 1990 to 95.0% in 2005 (DIGESTYC, n.d.[23]). Access to pre-primary education (parvularia) also increased by 51% between 2000 and 2018, albeit at a slower pace than some countries, such as Costa Rica, which had comparatively low starting points (Figure 7.3).

El Salvador’s achievements in terms of pre-primary enrolment stand out, as does the lag in middle school and higher education. The gross enrolment rate in pre-primary education (66% in 2019) stands at the same level as in emerging economies like Serbia, However, enrolment rates in secondary school, and especially in upper secondary (middle school), are among the lowest in the comparison group, exceeding only those of Guatemala.

In recent years, progress in the education sector has stagnated or regressed, with worrying trends in participation data. Over the past decade, gains obtained in education since the 1990s have been eroded, with declining rates of net enrolment. Even though net enrolment rates reached almost universal levels during the 2000s, they have been falling since 2005 (Figure 7.4).

Progression through the education system remains one of the greatest challenges, as indicated by the discontinuity of enrolment between the different levels of education. Since many children do not advance to lower secondary education (tercer ciclo) after completing their primary education, the net enrolment rate drops by 45%. At levels of education where it is not compulsory, and between lower-secondary and upper-secondary education, net enrolment rates fall between 20 and 25 percentage points for both boys and girls. In 2021, the net enrolment rates were 81.8% for primary school, 60.3% for lower secondary school, and 40.3% for upper secondary school.1

As in many Latin American countries, El Salvador trains youths in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) skills within the upper-secondary level (educación media). In 2017, more than half (52.6%) of all upper-secondary students were enrolled in technical and vocational programmes, although this has been declining recently, down from 57.5% in 2014. The share of all (lower and upper) secondary students enrolled in TVET (18%) is lower than the average for Central America as a whole (27%), but higher than in the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) (13%) (MINED, 2018[26]; UNESCO, 2020[27]).

Inequality in education remains a challenge for El Salvador, as vulnerable groups face greater obstacles to access education. The gender gap in enrolment rates is visible, especially in secondary school, where female enrolment rates are about 5 percentage points higher than for males, indicating lower participation by boys (Figure 7.4). Enrolment in technical secondary school, however, is equally distributed across genders. Children and young people in rural areas have participation rates that are lower in all levels, but especially in pre-primary and upper secondary education.

Educational attainment is a measure of the amount of human capital that is available in an economy, as well as an indicator of the capacity of the education system to prepare future citizens. As such, it constitutes an objective of public policy, and measurements of educational attainment complement measurements of education quality and learning. Successive education plans in El Salvador have established goals for educational attainment. Plan 2021 set a target of 11 years of education, while the Educated El Salvador Plan set universal compulsory education as a target (12 years of formal education for all).

Increases in enrolment rates in primary education since the 1990s have been part of a global phenomenon. However, this trend has not yet pushed the educational attainment of adults (25 years old and above) in El Salvador up to levels seen in other countries – including those with which it competes to attract international investment. El Salvador’s performance in this regard remains among the lowest in Central and South America (Table 7.2). Only 59% of adults attained at least the primary level of education, compared to around 80% in Costa Rica and Ecuador. The share of adults who have attended post-secondary education is 8%, whereas the Central American average is 15%, and the South American average is 19%.

Educational attainment has progressed, but there is still some way to go to reach the targets that have been set in national policy documents. Attainment for people aged 16 and over increased from 6.3 completed years of education in 2000 to 7.9 years in 2018 (DIGESTYC, 2019[30]). Educational attainment for young cohorts does reflect the increases in coverage and enrolment. Young people aged 18 to 29 years old, who were educated almost entirely after the reforms of the 1990s, have reached educational attainment of 10.3 years. This is 2.2 years higher than that of adults aged 30 to 59 (DIGESTYC, 2021[31]). Gender gaps, and gaps between urban and rural areas, do persist, despite recent increases in access to education. The gender gap has narrowed in younger generations, with only 0.2 years of difference between men and women compared with 0.5 years in older generations. On the other hand, the rural/urban gap persists. Notwithstanding the increase of educational attainment in younger generations, those in rural areas have two fewer years of education on average compared to those in urban areas. The rural/urban gap is of almost four years in the older age group (Figure 7.5).

El Salvador’s basic education system (cycles 1 to 3) suffers from a low level of internal efficiency, as shown by high rates of school dropout and low rates of transition between cycles.2 This has not always been the case. During the 2000s, El Salvador made significant improvements in overall pupil retention, with primary drop-out rates falling from 37% to 14% (UIS, 2012[32]).3 Despite this progress, only 86% of students completed primary education in 2018, which is one of the lowest rates in Central America, along with Nicaragua (74%) and Guatemala (78%). It is 10 percentage points below most other countries in the region (UNESCO, 2020[29]). Data from the Ministry of Education show a significant fall in the intra-annual drop-out rate in recent years. It fell from 5.6% in 2014 to 3.5% in 2019 in the first cycle of basic education, and from 5.7% to 3.6% in the second cycle4 (MINED, 2021[33]). However this trend appears to a large degree to be the result of improved tracking of students by the registry system, as earlier studies indicate that close to 30% of recorded drop-outs were due to changes of residence (Montes, 2018[34]).

The drop in school attendance rates starts among 13 to 15-year-olds, a group in which less than 90% of youths report that they are attending school (regardless of grade).5 At the end of compulsory education for 16 to 18-year-olds, school attendance falls more radically, by 26% for males and 28% for females (Figure 7.6).

Examining students’ progression through school by their individual age groups highlights difficulties in retention at various points in the education system. In 2019, average school attendance peaked at 98.5%, at nine years of age, which corresponds to the official age at the end of the first cycle of primary education. After this point, average school attendance falls gradually, declining to 83.7% by age 15 (Figure 7.7). As of age 13 – which corresponds to the official age between the end of primary education (Ciclo II) and entrance into lower secondary education (Tercer Ciclo) – overall school attendance falls to 95%.

Children from poor households and who live in rural areas are more likely to drop out of school than other groups.6 The school attendance gap between poor rural households and the national average increases with age, reaching a difference of nearly 20 percentage points by age 15.7 Gender is a significant determinant for non-attendance, and this varies by age. More boys from poor rural households drop out as of age 10, and again at age 13. Only 65.9% are attending school by the time they reach the end of compulsory education (age 15). Girls from poor rural households are more likely to drop out as of age 13.

Factors that undermine internal efficiency in El Salvador’s education system lead to an inefficient use of resources per student (Box 7.3). It is important, therefore, to identify and reduce the risk factors that prevent progression in primary education, and transitions into lower secondary education. Global evidence suggests that there is no single factor or combination of factors that can predict school drop-out. Identifying profiles of students that are at risk of drop-out is pertinent when risk factors are analysed (Stromquist, 2014[36]; UNICEF/UIS, 2011[37]).

Being over-age is a significant risk factor for non-completion of primary and secondary education. El Salvador has some of the highest rates of over-age children in the region, and across comparable countries – as shown in Table 7.3. In primary education, 13.5% of pupils are at least two years over age, as are 19.9% of those in lower secondary education. Given the relatively low repetition rates in El Salvador, it is likely that being over-age is linked to entering school late, to attending part-time, to child labour, and to other disruptions in regular school attendance (UNICEF/UIS, 2011[37]).8 These rates are 60% and 40% higher than the LAC averages. At the primary level, the share of over-age students is much higher than in neighbouring countries, such as Guatemala and Costa Rica. In almost every country with a high percentage of over-age children (over 10%), including El Salvador, boys are more likely to be over-age than girls at both primary and lower secondary levels.9 Children living in poverty are also more than twice as likely to be over-age in school (SETEPLAN/MINEC-DIGESTYC, 2019[40]).

The challenges that are linked to enrolment and school progression for children and youths in El Salvador call for a gendered approach. Completing compulsory education presents difficulties for both boys and girls, but the challenges that they face are different. The challenges are linked to the lack of gender equity in schools, and in communities.

El Salvador’s high rates of pregnancy in girls and adolescents stand out in comparison with neighbouring countries. Between 14% and 16% of all schools reported pregnancies in 2017, in both primary and secondary education.10 Both the General Law on Education, and El Salvador’s main law on childhood and adolescent protection (the Ley Crecer Juntos para la Protección Integral de la Primera Infancia, Niñez y Adolescencia, and previously, LEPINA) protect pregnant students from expulsion. However, an estimated 75% of pregnant girls dropped out of school in 2017. On average, they had completed five years of schooling, which is four years short of the national average (UNFPA, 2019[41]). Sexual violence in El Salvador is linked to dropping out of school. Teenage pregnancies are only one facet of the violence that girls and adolescents face, which can lead to dropping out of school. About one-third of all female dropouts in 2017 were related to violence in their communities, which made attending school a serious risk for girls (UNFPA, 2019[41]).11

In El Salvador, boys also face numerous obstacles to progressing smoothly through, and then completing, basic education. Boys begin primary school at a disadvantage relative to girls. A smaller proportion participates in pre-primary education (96% compared to 91%), and they are less well prepared for formal schooling (UNESCO, 2020[29]). From primary education onwards, being male is an important factor of disadvantage across indicators of progression. Boys are more likely than girls to repeat grades in primary and lower secondary school. In 2019, 58% of all repeaters aged 7 to 15 were boys. Nearly 60% of boys reported disinterest in studying as the main reason for not attending school, compared to 47% of female repeaters (DIGESTYC, 2020[35]). A higher proportion of boys are over-age compared to girls in primary education (16.0% compared to 10.7%), and the gender gap grows to 9 percentage points in lower secondary education (Table 7.3).

The low level of boys’ school attendance is observed through their likelihood of not completing a grade in which the stakes are particularly high. The gender gap in graduation rates for the last grade of primary education (Grade 6, Segundo ciclo) has been increasing since the 2000s in El Salvador (Figure 7.8, Panel A). While female retention and graduation in that last grade of primary school has improved by eight percentage points, there has been no improvement among boys. The end of primary education has been identified as a pivot age for boys to be recruited by gangs, or to engage in early work.

A similar pattern can be observed in the last grade of lower secondary education (Tercer ciclo), where boys are less likely to complete and graduate than girls, and where the situation has been worsening over the years (Figure 7.8, Panel B). The benefits of attending school rather than engaging in other opportunities (e.g. formal or informal employment, gang membership, family responsibilities) appear to have been deteriorating for boys for several years, with boys also becoming more likely to perceive these deteriorating benefits at an earlier age. Educational attainment among boys aged 15 to 24 is lower than for girls of the same age (DIGESTYC, 2019[30]).

Public expenditure on education in El Salvador has been relatively low compared to international standards. The Education 2030 Framework for Action of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proposes two benchmarks for minimum government allocation to education. These stipulate that public spending on education should reach at least 4%-6% of GDP, or at least 15%-20% of total public expenditure (UNESCO, 2015[42]). For most of the past 20 years, El Salvador has struggled to prioritise spending on education. Public expenditure on education in El Salvador has hovered below these minimum benchmarks. Between 2000 and 2018, it represented 3.7% of GDP on average, dropping from a high of 4.7% in 2009 to 3.6% in 2018. Education as a share of total government expenditure averaged 15.8% during the same period, with a high of 19.4% in 2008, and a low of 14.9% in 2018 (UNESCO, 2020[27]). Relative to comparator countries, El Salvador was among those that spent the least on education, below the median for lower-middle income countries (Figure 7.9).

One estimate suggests that all low- and middle-income countries will have to raise their total education expenditure to at least 8.5% of GDP by 2030 in order to meet all of the SDGs related to education. In particular, this means SDG , which is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education” and to “promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (Education Commission, 2016[43]).

The response to the COVID-19 crisis resulted in a significant increase in the public education budget. The 2020 budget already included an increase in education spending for the education branch of government, with an approved budget of USD 1.039 billion (MH, 2021[44]). By the end of 2020, the budget execution of the branch reached 4.07% of GDP, despite the downward modification to the budget. In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, an important part of the response was channelled through the education system, with a 29.8% increase in the branch's budget in 2021. The proposed budget law for 2022 maintained education spending at almost 5% of projected GDP. During the global financial crisis of 2008-09, there was also a significant increase in education spending through the Plan 2021 national education plan, although on that occasion it was only temporary (Figure 7.10). Maintaining future levels of investment in education is necessary in order to meet the country's education and development goals.

The distribution of expenditures by education levels reflects both government priorities and the limits on available fiscal space. The share of investment by education level relative to GDP per capita in El Salvador reflects efforts that have been made to increase coverage. Expenditure in pre-primary education reflects the dynamism of this sector (Figure 7.11). However, government finance for tertiary education (0.34% of GDP in 2019) is well below public investment in benchmark countries. It is even below that of countries like Chile, where public expenditure is not the primary source of finance for higher education.12 Investment per student as a share of GDP per capita in El Salvador is in line with that of other countries in the region in pre-primary and primary education. However, investment per student in secondary school is below the regional average, in addition to being below the average for lower middle-income countries (Figure 7.12).

Developing the ECEC system in El Salvador is a necessity in order to provide all children with the foundations for life-long learning, and to strengthen the education system. Over the past two decades, El Salvador has made significant progress on maternal and early-childhood access to medical services, but more emphasis needs to be placed on the provision of and access to quality pre-primary education.13 Decades of international advocacy and evidence show that early childhood (which in El Salvador is defined as being from birth to seven years old) is as an essential phase in which to provide the foundations for critical cognitive, emotional, physical and social development (Britto et al., 2016[48]; Clark et al., 2020[49]).14

Investing in early childhood for quality ECEC programming would have positive repercussions for later schooling outcomes. Children who participate in initial education, and who attend pre-primary education, are more likely to enter school on time, to succeed in school, and to achieve higher educational attainment (Busso et al., 2017[50]; Schady, 2006[51]). External socio-economic factors such as nutrition, health, poverty and geography are linked to early achievement gaps among children before they enter primary education. This has a life-long impact on future opportunities (Engle et al., 2011[52]; Naudeau et al., 2011[53]; Neuman, Josephson and Chua, 2015[54]). Compounded factors of marginalisation and vulnerability during early childhood can exacerbate the negative impact on children’s development, increasing the probability of greater deprivation later in life (Britto et al., 2016[48]). Participating in early childhood education contributes to mitigating such factors.

Access to pre-primary education is not universal or equitable in El Salvador, despite being free and compulsory as guaranteed by the 2011 General Law on Education. A third of children aged four to six do not participate in pre-primary education.15 Younger children in this age group (aged four to six) are less likely to attend than older children. Only 34.9% of four-year-old children participate in kindergarten, compared to the 91.9% of six-year-olds who attend educational institutions (Figure 7.13). Children from vulnerable households, such as those whose mothers have very low educational attainment, who live in rural areas, and who belong to the poorest 20%, participate less than others.

When factors of vulnerability combine, this further reduces children’s chances of attending pre-primary education in El Salvador. Children from the poorest 20% households, and who live in rural areas, are the least likely among all to attend school (54%). Meanwhile, children who come from better-off households and live in urban areas are much more likely to attend school (77%). Moreover, children from more advantaged households are more likely to begin school on time (at age four) than others, thereby giving them a stronger foundation of development for primary education (DIGESTYC, 2020[35]).16 These same children also are more likely to face poor learning environments at home, and they therefore stand to gain the most from access to quality ECEC services. Such access could mitigate factors of inequality that are present event before children start school (MINSAL; UNICEF, 2016[55]).

El Salvador’s next steps are to commit to planning for the expansion of pre-primary education to reach all children, especially those in vulnerable situations, and to invest adequate resources in the development of quality universal early-childhood education. Efforts to expand initial education should also be considered. Investments in ECEC have both short- and long-run benefits for children and parents in terms of well-being. They can also have far-reaching socio-economic benefits and can support national development goals. ECEC enables children to increase their skills and competencies in order to become productive citizens who can contribute to greater workforce productivity and economic growth. Evidence from OECD member states found that children who attended three years of quality, full-time pre-primary education scored higher in reading, science and mathematics at age 15 (OECD, 2020[56]). In El Salvador, 36% of children attending early learning programmes were at the appropriate developmental level for early literacy and numeracy skills, compared to 13% who did not attend (MINSAL; UNICEF, 2016[55]).

One of the most promising reforms in El Salvador was the inclusion of three years of pre-primary education as part of free and compulsory education. At a global level, international policy documents such as the Education 2030 Framework for Action, and SDG Target 4.2, call for countries to provide access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education for all children. Ensuring at least one year of universal quality pre-primary education by making it free and compulsory is the minimum recommendation for all countries to implement SDG Target 4.2.

Implementing the right to free and compulsory pre-primary education in El Salvador has been more challenging in practical terms, however, despite successive legislative frameworks and national early childhood policies over the past few decades (Box 7.4). Salvadoran ECEC policies and plans have articulated an integrated approach to service delivery, and a holistic vision of early childhood development. The Ministry of Education has worked in co-ordination with other sectors (health, justice and finance) in order to develop comprehensive, high-quality and progressive education, in conditions of equality and equity, for all girls and boys. At the same time, the state is to provide free food assistance in public education institutions of initial and pre-school (parvularia) education.

The Ministry of Education designed the first National Policy for Comprehensive Early Childhood Development in 2010, with the support of the local chapter of an international non-governmental organisation (NGO), Plan Internacional El Salvador. It also had technical and financial support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The policy was part of the government’s programme for 2009-14. It aimed to provide universal Early Childhood Development (ECD) services from birth to seven years of age, co-ordinated by the Ministry of Education (MINED, 2010[57]). Many concrete efforts were made to develop ECD services (e.g. increasing available supplies, family support programmes, teacher training), but delivery capacity and inter-sectoral co-ordination remained low. In 2015, an Early Childhood Education department was created within the Ministry of Education, at the same level as other education levels. This reflected its growing importance within the education sector.

Efforts to co-ordinate programmatic and operational links with other sectors working with young children and their families (e.g. health, social affairs, women’s affairs, local government) were institutionalised recently (in 2020). In 2018, a new National Strategy for Integrated Early Childhood Development was approved by CONNA, with the participation of high-level government officials and civil society. However, it was not implemented in full by the end of the previous presidential mandate in 2019.

In 2019, El Salvador’s new administration identified ECEC as central to its development agenda for the country (the Plan Cuscatlán 2019‐24). It developed its Crecer Juntos (Growing up and Learning Together), a new national Early childhood development policy with technical assistance from UNICEF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. The design of the policy was an inter-sectoral and inter-institutional effort. It was designed with the participation of members of the private and public sectors, at national and local level, and in the areas of health, education and the protection of rights. The Inter-sectoral Plan for Early Childhood was presented by the First Lady in February 2020, and work progressed with technical and financial support from the World Bank. As part of the inter-sectoral framework created under Crecer Juntos, the government developed early childhood development and learning standards for public and private institutions. It also developed plans for the training of professional directors and teachers for their work at ECEC centres, the new construction of 110 public ECEC centres, plus improvements in the quality of 400 existing centres (World Bank, 2019[58]). The responsible entity for ECEC is the Dirección Nacional de Educación de Primera Infancia. It is located within the Ministry of Education, but it still lacks a framework for inter-sectoral co-ordination or a mechanism for decision making.

The “Growing up and learning together” Act (Ley Crecer Juntos) has established a new institutional framework for ECEC (Asamblea Legislativa, 2022[59]). The law was approved in June 2022 and is in force since 2023. This law replaces the LEPINA law and expands its provisions in a number of areas. Among other reforms, it creates a National council for early childhood, childhood and adolescence (Consejo Nacional de la Primera Infancia, Niñez y Adolescencia or CONAPINA) as the governing entity of the system for the protection of early childhood, childhoold and adolescence, absorbing the attributions of CONNA and ISNA. The law also creates the “Growing together institute” (Instituto Crecer Juntos) as the reference institute for the definition and implementation of a comprehensive care model for early childhood.

Despite the extensive history of robust ECEC policy development in El Salvador, the provision of pre-primary education is not sufficiently developed compared to most other countries in the region to countries with similar levels of development (Figure 7.3). Because of SDG Target 4.2, the momentum for promoting and expanding pre-primary education is global. But El Salvador is falling behind in terms of implementation. The experience of other middle-income countries, Ecuador, Indonesia, Jamaica and Mexico, can provide lessons on the expansion of ECEC in El Salvador (Gertler et al., 2013[60]; Jung and Hasan, 2014[61]; Paxson and Schady, 2005[62]; Yoshikawa et al., 2007[63]).

The expansion of formal ECEC services can take a variety of forms. One of these is parent-supported community education programmes such as “I Am Also a Person” (También Soy Persona) and “Family Circles” (Círculos de Familia). Another is the development of pre-primary schools. Qualified early childhood educators are essential for children to develop social and emotional skills from birth. They can foster strong relationships with children and their parents and mobilise practical and didactic learning experiences (OECD, 2015[64]).

Lower middle-income countries have often expanded ECEC services by favouring universal access for specific age groups or through the supply of targeted services for vulnerable households. Challenges with regard to geography (rural, remote), gender inequality, and natural hazards will compound difficulties in expanding the reach and effectiveness of pre-primary education. In El Salvador, poverty, teenage maternity, disability, and violence in the community, are factors that make it more difficult for families to access basic public services, and to provide care from birth that can satisfy the needs of early childhood development. Difficulties can be worsened when families and communities are subject to emergency situations, including natural hazards, conflict, displacement or a pandemic such as COVID-19. Targeting children from vulnerable families and unsafe environments during the scaling up of pre-primary education is an effective measure for providing every child with the opportunity to succeed in learning and in life. The availability of early childhood services can also help more women to enter the labour force, thus generating income for their households and contributing to the country’s social and economic development. Current plans, which were formulated with the World Bank, aim to improve existing physical learning environments in the country. However, vulnerability-based needs are not associated with a process of expanding supply (World Bank, 2020[65]).

In light of El Salvador’s legal framework for compulsory pre-primary education, the country could choose initially to expand ECEC services in the poorest municipalities. The targeting system of the conditional cash transfer programme (known formerly as Red Solidaria) can help to identify vulnerable families and children. Pilot programmes, and policy experiments for which there is evidence of positive impact in El Salvador or in other countries, such as the Triple E pilot programme (Box 7.5), can be sources of opportunity for the rapid expansion of pre-primary education.

Expanding the supply of pre-primary schooling requires taking into consideration the diversity of the organisations that are involved in ECEC. In 2018, 83.3% of pre-primary enrolment was in the public sector, and 16.7% of it was in the private sector. The latter includes community-based organisations, international non-governmental organisations, for-profit enterprises, and religious entities (DIGESTYC, n.d.[23]). The World Bank estimated that educational services are dispensed in El Salvador in 4 557 public schools and 742 private centres (World Bank, 2020[65]). Mapping existing services is an essential component for determining what is available, at what scale, and who might fill the service-delivery gaps.

An essential component of scaling up pre-primary education is to develop a participatory approach whereby the voices and needs of parents are considered. It is necessary to implement initiatives to encourage parents and communities to value children's rights to education. The interest of Salvadoran parents in pre-primary education is very low, despite it being free and compulsory. Almost half (47%) of parents are not interested in pre-primary education for their 4-6 year olds. Another 40% mention that they think their children are too young to go to school (DIGESTYC, 2019[30]). The value added of ECEC relative to other levels of education has limited recognition among households in many countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. On average, all households – regardless of their income levels – increase education spending threefold during primary and secondary school age, relative to earlier and later stages of education (Busso et al., 2017[50]).

Expanding the provision of universal high-quality ECEC is a key objective for improving overall education performance and enhancing social equity. Higher public spending during the early childhood period is justified in terms of the higher return on investment relative to later periods (childhood, adolescence), most notably in terms of productivity during adulthood (Heckman et al., 2010[68]; Heckman, Pinto and Savelyev, 2012[69]). Although most estimates are based on data from the United States, recent evidence from developing countries finds that every U.S. dollar that is spent on pre-primary education results in USD 9 of benefits to society (Muroga et al., 2020[70]). These are measured in terms of monetary gains from increased years of schooling (linked to higher expected lifetime earnings), plus the cost savings in the education system from reduced repetition rates in primary education.

Increasing the supply of pre-primary education to enable universal access and enrolment in El Salvador requires the allocation of a sufficient budget from government, and sustainable financing. Government investment in pre-primary education has been very low in El Salvador, both relative to other education levels, and based on international standards – as is the case in many other countries.18 The distribution of education expenditure by level of education in El Salvador reflects, as in many other countries, the lack of investment in pre-primary education compared to other levels of education. Despite the recommendations made to countries to allocate at least 2% of total government expenditure to pre-primary education (UNICEF, 2019[71]; UNICEF, 2019[72]; Education Commission, 2016[43]), public expenditure and donations to pre-primary education in El Salvador remain below this level.19 In El Salvador, 1.5% of public expenditure was devoted to pre-primary education in 2018 (UNESCO, 2020[27]). Public expenditure per student in pre-primary education (as a share of GDP per capita) remains lower than in primary or secondary education (Figure 7.9).

Investment in early childhood has been historically low in El Salvador, but it has increased recently through expenditures on health. The budget that is dedicated to ECEC activities increased 21.5% between 2012 and 2019 in nominal terms, but it has remained under 0.3% of GDP over the period as a whole (Diálogo Interamericano; UNICEF, 2021[73]). The total amount of money destined to finance early-childhood activities was doubled in 2020. This included a small increase (4%) in the budgets allocated to initial education and pre-school. It also included specific budget lines for the implementation of the National Policy for Comprehensive Early Childhood Development in the Ministry of Health and the FOSALUD (Fondo Solidario para la Salud). In total, it amounted to USD 161.1 million.

Different costing models provide a wide range of estimates of the investment that would be necessary to make quality pre-primary education universal. All of them imply a significant increase in resources in El Salvador. A number of specific costing models have been developed in order to simulate the cost of extending ECEC programmes (e.g. UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa (WCARO), Van Ravens and Aggio, UNESCO, and the Brookings Institution/World Bank’s Standardized Early Childhood Development Costing Tool [SECT]). One cost estimate of the provision of a year of universal pre-primary education (as per SDG Target 4.2) in low- and lower-middle-income countries found that governments would have to increase total annual spending from four to six times compared to 2012 levels.20 Accordingly, expenditure would need to be almost three times current spending as a percentage of GDP, which implies a large domestic financing gap (UNESCO, 2015[42]). According to the global model that is used by the Education Commission, reaching two years of free and universal pre-primary education by 2030 would require USD 40 billion per year in all lower-middle income countries. This is equivalent to increasing education expenditure to 8.5% of GDP in low and middle-income countries in order to meet SDG Target 4.2 by 2030, with an expenditure on pre-primary education of 0.45% of GDP. In the case of El Salvador, that represents an increase of 0.15 percentage points (Education Commission, 2016). A recent report stated that a programme to make pre-primary education universal in El Salvador – which would imply expanding enrolment to 277 000 children, creating 33 600 jobs – would cost USD 359 million a year (UNICEF, 2018[74]). This would entail investment in pre-primary education of 1.46% of GDP per year, above the OECD average (0.54%), and even above the level in the OECD country with the highest expenditure in pre-primary education (Sweden invests 1.21% of its GDP in pre-primary education).

Public investment in early childhood can be a powerful force in reducing inequalities, especially when resources are targeted efficiently, effectively, and sustainably. As in many other countries, financing for pre-primary education needs greater attention from domestic and international sources. The international community spends less than 1% of Official Development Assistance (ODA) on pre-primary education, and that figure has not risen substantially since 2015. In El Salvador, the share of ODA that is spent on education has increased steadily since 2002, standing at 19.7% in 2019. This was well above the global average (7.5%) and the Latin American and Caribbean average (7.8%). However, the share devoted to ECEC has remained relatively low (0.09% on average between 2002 and 2019) (Zubairi and Rose, 2017[75]; Zubairi, Rose and Moriarty, 2019[76]) (OECD, 2021[77]). A sustainable financing strategy needs to draw on complementary sources of funds. Some countries have increased funding for pre-primary education through innovative financing mechanisms (Box 7.6). To ensure financing for the Crecer Juntos policy, a fiscal strategy has been developed that includes partnerships with donors, private enterprise, NGOs, and budgetary allocations for specific programmes.

Increasing participation beyond primary education is among the goals of El Salvador’s education policy, as a means of supporting socioeconomic development in the country. In El Salvador, one in six young people of lower-secondary age (13 to 15), and one in three of upper-secondary age (16 to 18), were not in school in 2018.21 Compulsory education stops short at the end of lower secondary education, even though legally guaranteed access to upper secondary is generalised in most countries in the region.

The objective behind increasing the number of years of schooling (educational attainment) is for all youth to achieve basic skills beyond literacy and numeracy, including critical social and emotional skills for success in the labour market. Such skills include creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration, as well as resilience, perseverance, and self-control (OECD, 2015[64]). From an economic perspective, significant gains could arise if all students achieved these skills. One estimate for lower-middle income countries suggests that GDP could increase to 13 times its current value if this were the case (OECD, 2015[80]). Increased enrolment in quality secondary school is an important, if not sufficient, step towards achieving this.

Poverty and violence in schools and communities are linked to reduced demand for education. The factors behind the high rate of out-of-school children in El Salvador have shifted over time. In 1997, the first reason for dropping out of school was cost, but this was only the seventh most cited reason in 2019 amongst seven to 15-year-olds who were not in school (Cox and Ureta, 2003[81]; DIGESTYC, 2020[35]). The relevance and pertinence of education were the most salient concerns in 2019. Lack of interest was cited as the most important factor for non-attendance for 40% of out-of-school children.22 Factors of non-attendance also differ by gender and reflect traditional gendered approaches to educational opportunities. Out-of-school girls are more likely than boys to report their parents’ refusal as reasons for non-attendance (second highest reason at 11%, compared to fourth highest for boys), while boys are more likely to report needing to work (second highest reason 10%, compared to ninth highest for girls).

Tackling student dropouts will require strong incentives and support directed at students and their families to encourage progression through, and completion of, basic education. These measures need to be accompanied by reforms at the school and classroom level in order to increase students’ engagement and motivation, and to help accommodate children with different needs (Lyche, 2010[82]). This section reviews evidence on the impact of the duration of compulsory schooling. It then focuses on how to mitigate some of the key obstacles to school progression, such as costs and violence.

Making the last three years of secondary schooling compulsory in El Salvador would be an opportunity to attract more of the country’s young people, but only if the quality of the education can be assured. Global evidence on the expansion of compulsory schooling finds that it has a positive effect on increasing educational attainment and reducing dropout rates (Smidova, 2019[83]). The increase in the length of compulsory schooling has been an important component of the increase in educational attainment over the past century. Many countries in Europe and the OECD extended compulsory schooling gradually from the 1950s onwards. Empirical evidence indicates that educational attainment increased by about 0.4 years for each additional year of compulsory schooling (Smidova, 2019[83]; Braga, Checchi and Meschi, 2013[84]).

Compulsory secondary education, along with complementary measures, can lead to increasing enrolment. In Latin America and the Caribbean, nearly all countries with 12 or more years of total compulsory education have higher net enrolment rates at the upper secondary level than El Salvador. In Colombia, for example, where upper secondary education is part of compulsory schooling, net enrolment rates are 13 percentage points higher than in El Salvador (79% and 66% respectively) (Figure 7.14). Combined with demand-side policies, such as cash transfers, which aim to change household behavior, the expansion of compulsory schooling can increase student enrolment and reduce child labour (e.g. Brazil, Mexico). Experience in low- and middle-income countries suggests that intra-group benefits could also occur, reducing inequities across socio-economic groups, and increasing female participation in the labour market.23

Salvadoran households contribute to the cost of education to cover school fees, supplies, uniforms, food, transportation, and other associated costs. Families in El Salvador paid on average USD 783 and USD 985 (at PPP) for primary and secondary school, respectively, in 2018 (Figure 7.15). Between 2012 and 2018, household spending per student on primary education rose from 7.7% to 9.1% of GDP per capita, the equivalent of nearly USD 200. This is nearly ten times the levels observed across the world, where household spending on education accounted for a mean of 1.1% of GDP (UNESCO, 2020[29]).24

The socio-economic circumstances and the location of households are determinants for the contributions that they make to school expenses. Wealthier households spend a larger share of their expenditures on education (29%) than the poorest households (8%). Households in rural areas also spend a greater proportion of their expenditure on education than households living in urban areas. This is most likely due to transportation costs (DIGESTYC, 2020[35]). A high level of household spending on education can be a significant burden for the most vulnerable households. This is because the financial barrier imposed on families leads to limited access to education. Such a scenario contributes to an increase in the educational inequalities between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Besides, given that the cost of household spending on education in El Salvador increases by USD 200 per student between primary and secondary education, financial considerations might be even more relevant during the transition between these two levels (Figure 7.15).

Government programmes help to reduce the cost of education. Students in primary and secondary education in public schools receive uniforms, shoes, and school supplies - with universal coverage. They also receive school meals, with somewhat lower coverage (89% in basic education, 75% in secondary education, according to data from the EHPM (DIGESTYC, 2022[85]). As a result, expenditure per primary school student in public schools (USD 77) is much lower than in private secular (USD 734) or religious (USD 482) schools. However, even in public schools, spending remains high, at 1.1% of GDP per capita in basic education, and 3.3% in secondary education.

Many schools in rural areas are difficult to access or are far from students’ homes. Transportation issues are a reality for many school children in El Salvador, and access to schools can be impassable, especially during the rainy season. In 2016, 307 single-teacher schools had no public means of transport to reach the school, and another 42% of schools had poor access routes (MINED, 2016[86]). Another consequence of the urban-rural gap in school supply is the weak transition rate observed from lower to upper secondary levels (from the tercer ciclo to educación media). This varies across municipalities. The relative supply of feeder schools to receiving schools – that is, the number of lower-secondary schools that converge into one upper-secondary school – averages 4-to-1 at a national level, but can be as high as 8-to-1 in some municipalities, including Colón and Metapán (FUSADES, 2019[87]).25 Some children and youths opt not to attend schools that are further from their previous school, and therefore impose additional costs for transportation or other requirements. The low supply of nearby schools has also been cited as a cause for internal migration (Taddei et al., 2016[88]). Investment in rural infrastructure projects in El Salvador, such as paving critical road access, is linked to increases in school enrolment in secondary school, and decreases in the time and cost of transportation to school (Corral and Zane, 2021[89]).

Compared with other countries, and especially at the secondary level, the burden of financing education stands at a high absolute level for households in El Salvador. Salvadoran households spend USD 985 (at constant PPP), compared to USD 111 in Serbia and USD 326 in Mexico (Figure 7.16). The higher the level of private spending on education, the more likely that household income will be a sensitive factor in the enrolment of children and youths. Household allocations to education costs are likely to reflect cultural and parental attitudes towards the value to education. Emergency situations – including natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, for example – are likely to exacerbate economic pressures in poor families, and to create a decisional trade-off between child labour and school attendance in order to meet basic household needs (Jaramillo, 2020[90]).

High rates of household participation in financing also reflect insufficient overall levels of public expenditure in education, as is the case in El Salvador. The poorer the country, the higher the out-of-pocket (private) share of national education spending. Households in lower-middle income countries like El Salvador account for nearly 25% of all education expenditures, compared to 11% in high-income countries (UNESCO, 2020[29]). Labour-market conditions have an impact on dropout rates. For instance, some regional and seasonal labour markets (e.g. tourism, construction) can attract young people out of school into unskilled jobs with poor prospects. The availability of such jobs, and the prospect of earning money early – either to improve the economic situation of the family, or to enable the young person to become more independent – motivate many young people to leave school prematurely. However, education systems can be designed in such a way as to give these youngsters the incentives either to stay in education, or to return to it at a later stage.

Remittances play an important role in financing household spending on education. About half (54%) of households that receive remittances spend an average USD 98 per month on education-related expenses, which are composed mostly of school fees, food, and transportation (DIGESTYC, 2019[30]). An increase in remittances has a stronger effect on education outcomes than increasing household income by other means. This may be due to remittances being explicitly destined for spending on education, or to a different propensity towards education in households that receive remittances. A 2003 study found that children in Salvadoran households who receive an average level of remittances are more likely to enrol in school, and are significantly less likely to drop out. They were 54% less likely to drop out at primary level, and 27% less likely at subsequent stages of education. This contrasts with the impact of the level of total income in the household, which has no or little effect in reducing the drop-out risk beyond primary education (Cox and Ureta, 2003[81]). Across multiple dimensions (e.g. living standards, health, employment, environment), households that receive remittances are significantly less likely to live in vulnerable situations than those that do not receive remittances (SETEPLAN/MINEC-DIGESTYC, 2019[40]).

Several programmes of successive administrations have supported disadvantaged families with a range of in-kind transfers and stipends to promote equal opportunities in access to education, and to reduce inequalities that are due to income or gender. Through the Ministry of Education and partner organisations, El Salvador’s government has the capacity to help poor families to purchase or cover the costs that are associated with the inputs necessary to attend school. This includes uniforms, shoes and tuition fees. The School Feeding and Health Programme (the Programa de Alimentación y Salud Escolar, or PASE) has been in place since 1984. It provides a daily ration to students in public education establishments. The “Glass of milk” (Un Vaso de Leche) programme has had growing reach since 2011, but has had difficulties meeting the needs of rural areas (Alvarado and Lazo, 2019[91]). The Instituto Salvadoreño Para el Desarollo Integral de la Niñez y la Adolescencia (ISNA) provides the logistical services for the storage, conservation, registration and dispatch of food for, on average, 9 167 children and adolescents, in 115 Early Childhood Care Centres.

In El Salvador, as in many other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, conditional and non-conditional cash transfers have constituted the programmatic foundation for promoting equity in enrolment, completion and attainment in primary and lower-secondary education. Several cash-transfer programmes in the form of education grants (e.g. Comunidades Solidarias Rurales y Urbanas, and Familias Sostenibles) have sought to incentivise enrolment, regular attendance, permanence in the education system, and completion of Cycle 3 of basic education for girls, boys and youths in targeted disadvantaged municipalities. In El Salvador, the initial phase of the conditional cash transfer for households living in extreme poverty in rural areas (Red Solidaria) conducted in 2005-08 proved that transfers reduced repetition rates.26

El Salvador could consider expanding conditional transfer programmes in order to support students' school enrolment and attendance. El Salvador's main conditional transfer programme (Comunidades Solidarias Urbanas y Rurales) has demonstrated positive effects on the school attendance of pre-school children. Six years after the start of the programme, 5-year-olds with access to the programme were almost 30% more likely to attend school than those without access (Sanchez Chico et al., 2020[92]). These effects are even larger than the impact that was found at the start of the programme (15% for 6-year-olds, 9% for 7-year-olds) (De Brauw and Gilligan, 2011[93]). However, the programme's coverage has been very limited since its inception in 2005. According to estimates from the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC), it covered 6.8% of households by 2015 (Cecchini and Atuesta, 2017[94]). This is far below the coverage levels in countries such as Argentina (24%) or Mexico (24%). With the shutdown of the implementing entity of the conditional cash transfer programme (the Fondo de Inversión Social para el Desarrollo Local) in January 2022, the continuity of the programme seems to be in question, although there has been no formal announcement of its closure. It would, therefore, be necessary specifically to target the education grant component towards households and pupils who are at risk of dropping out of school.

In 2019-20, the state provided health and education grants worth USD 5.7 million in cash transfers for children who are enrolled in lower secondary and middle school to attend school regularly, and to stay in the education system. Some municipalities, with support from local civil society (e.g. non-governmental organisations and churches) have adopted scholarship schemes that help maintain access to education for specific populations, including pregnant adolescents, teenage mothers, children with disabilities, child victims of violence, and those living in extreme poverty (UNICEF, 2017[66]). These programmes have provided immediate financial and nutritional relief to low-income families. However, their effectiveness in improving education outcomes in a sustainable manner merits examination. Few of the Salvadoran programmes mentioned have been subject to rigorous evaluation with regards to their impact on access and progress in schooling. Strong implementation, and monitoring and evaluation systems, are essential components of such programmes. They enable the targeting and adaptation of a programme’s objectives at the levels both of the individual and the community. This is the case of Mexico’s Oportunidades programme (Box 7.7).

Many of El Salvador’s children and youth grow up surrounded by a persistent culture of violence in all spheres of their lives, including in their families, schools, and communities. Combined with the cumulative weight of El Salvador’s political history of authoritarianism, the poor labour-market opportunities in the country, and the prevalence of gangs, disadvantaged children and youths have a bleak vision of their future (UNICEF, 2014[97]). Attending school is considered optional at best, and dangerous at worst. Aside from the loss of life, the direct and indirect consequences of decades of violence in El Salvador are estimated to generate costs that are equivalent to 16% of GDP (OECD Development Centre, 2017[98]). Addressing the impact of violence on schooling requires an understanding of the multiple ways in which community-based violence acts to perpetuate low educational attainment among children and youths in El Salvador.

In certain circumstances, attending school can simply be considered dangerous and life-threatening. While 5% of children not attending school stated violence as the main reason, another 10% stated that their parents did not want them to attend (DIGESTYC, 2020[35]). Parents of children and youths can feel threated while they are in school, or on their way there, and parents may choose for them not to attend (Díaz Alas, 2018[99]). One survey found that 23% of students aged 13-15 had not attended school on at least one day in the past month due to safety concerns (MINSAL, 2013[100]). Extreme violence in Salvadoran communities has not spared schools. In 2015, 64% of schools experienced gang-related violence, and 72 students and 15 teachers were murdered that same year (Bautista et al., 2017[101]). In 2018, 507 schools (8.4% of total) reported the presence of gangs, and rural schools have slightly more incidents of student threats reported than urban schools (55% compared to 45%) (MINED, 2022[25]). Families also can perceive public schools to be unsafe relative to private schools. If financially feasible, they respond by enrolling them in private schools. In peri-urban, violence-affected areas, one in every five students enrolled in basic education attends a private (non-state) school (Francis, Martin and Burnett, 2018[102]).

Violent environments during childhood can incite youths to join gangs, which appear as protective refuges from dysfunctional families and communities (Bolaños and León, 2008[103]). When the perceived value of education is lower than the security risk of attending school, violence becomes an indirect barrier to education in El Salvador. Concerns about the high level of impunity, and the lack of official recognition of their impact on the internal displacement of families, remain prominent in the latest report on El Salvador’s adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 2018[104]). Households opt for internal and external migration as a reaction to living in violent areas. These displacements are strongly related to school drop-outs. In 2018, the top three reasons cited for withdrawing from an educational institution included changes in residence (37.7%), moving out of the country (12.1%), and moving to another school (11.0%) (Edwards, Martin and Flores, 2015[11]; MINED, 2020[105]).27

The overall climate of violence experienced by Salvadoran children and youths in their daily environment can have a negative impact on their developmental outcomes, including foundational learning, competency acquisition, and school completion. From a developmental perspective, violent environments inhibit positive relationships, and are related among children and youths to low self-esteem, emotional anxiety, and depression. Poor school climates are associated with lower learning levels, as measured by regional learning assessments (Treviño et al., 2016[106]).

The violent climate in families and communities in El Salvador increases the risk of school drop-out. Despite legal protection against gender-based violence in schools and communities, sexual violence disproportionately affects girls, and makes them more likely not to attend school, or to drop-out with no intention of returning (Moreno Uriza, 2014[107]). Half of all children under 14 experienced a form of violent discipline (i.e. psychological aggression and/or physical punishment) (UNICEF, 2019[108]). Recent reports also indicate an increase in gender-based sexual violence among girls, with nearly two-thirds of identified victims having experienced violence in the homes of their families or friends (UNFPA, 2019[41]). Relative to other countries in the region, pregnancies among adolescents are more prevalent in El Salvador. In fact, 28% of all pregnancies in the country are among females aged 10 to 19, compared to 15% in Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole (UNFPA, 2019[41]). Although pregnant adolescents are guaranteed the right to education in the General Law on Education, they often feel forced to leave school, and they do not return due to the absence of supportive measures (ISNA, 2019[109]). As such, the economic cost of teenage pregnancy is high (estimated at USD 352 million28). This is due to limited opportunities in education and work, and to the ensuing intra-generational transmission of poverty (UNFPA, 2019[41]). Holistic community-based programmes, such as the Ciudad Mujer Programme (developed in 2011) provide linked services, referrals, and support to women in need. This programme provides women with integrated social services in a single location, including female economic development, female empowerment, childcare, women’s health, and protection of women against violence (Bustelo et al., 2016[110]). These centres are located in six departments in which there are high levels of domestic violence against women.29

Experiences from Latin America and the Caribbean identify a series of risk factors for school violence. These are rooted at different levels: that of the individual, that of the school, and that of the community. Successful violence-prevention programmes tend to include activities that cover more than one of these levels, although evidence from rigorously evaluated programmes is scarce in the region. Nonetheless, several conclusions are well supported by global evidence from programmes that have attempted to reduce youth violence in and around schools (Alda, 2007[111]; Atienzo, Baxter and Kaltenthaler, 2017[112]; Chaux et al., 2017[113]; Moestue, Moestue and Muggah, 2013[114]; WHO/WHO Collaborating Centre for Violence Prevention, 2010[115]). These conclusions include:

  • Community-based programmes consistently appear to be effective in preventing violence.

  • School-based programmes that focus on expanding hours, providing youths with links to employment, and involving children and youths in recreational, cultural and sports activities, have promising preventive results.

  • Changing norms in school environments by empowering youths, expanding opportunities to include parents, and engaging in positive classroom management, reduces violent behaviours.

  • Developing life skills among children and adolescents, and building socio-emotional competencies, reduces patterns of youth violence.

  • School-based programmes that address gender norms and attitudes can prevent violence against women.

Successive governments have made efforts to reduce gang-related violence in communities, and the inclusive full-time school (Escuela inclusive de Tiempo Pleno, or EITP) is a promising model that could benefit from being updated and monitored. In the communities that were targeted by the Plan El Salvador Seguro (the PESS), the benefits of full-time school in curbing the entry of youths into gangs were recognised. Other Salvadoran experiences are in line with international experience. As already noted, one of the effects of violence is to encourage enrolment in private schools in areas that are particularly affected by violence. In the implementation of PESS, which ran until 2019, the experience of partnerships between government and affordable privately-run schools offered lessons on how to mitigate the impact of conflict and violence in schools. Privately run schools succeed in creating a sense of community among principals, teachers and parents. Their commitment to safety and educational quality is a strength in creating safe educational spaces in communities with high levels of violence (Francis, Martin and Burnett, 2018[102]). Indeed, violence is more widespread in public schools than in private schools (MINED, 2022[25]).

Analyses of policies to prevent violence in school environments in El Salvador identify several areas where there is scope for improvement. The first relates to the current predominance of a public-safety approach over a comprehensive violence-prevention approach. Although public security is important, the former overlooks the need to establish the school not only as a safe place but also as a place for learning to live together. This means having not only security tools but also pedagogical tools. These should be focused on the students, but also aimed at families and communities. Secondly, there is a multiplicity of interventions, which in many cases are focused on a limited number of schools or municipalities. Thirdly, there is a paucity of evaluations of implemented initiatives. This makes decision making difficult, especially when taking into account the need to focus on more comprehensive interventions due to budget constraints (Cuéllar-Marchelli and Góchez, 2017[116]; Alas, Linares and Ramos, 2019[117]).

It is desirable to expand interventions both in the management of violence, and in violence prevention in school environments. For example, school counsellors can provide psycho-social assistance to victims of violence in the framework of a holistic approach that also includes the participation of parents and communities. The latter is important to avoid a purely public-safety oriented approach leading to a neglect of problems that are relevant to students, but that are not a priority in terms of public safety (such as bullying). A psycho-social care programme has been implemented in this regard in recent years through School Counselling Centres (Consejerías Escolares), prioritising 505 schools (out of 6 025 in the country) to provide care and support to students, teachers, and parents. This effort deserves to be reinforced. On the other hand, the experience of full-time inclusive schools should be evaluated in terms of the impact of the extended school day on violence, and of violence risk factors. Based on this evaluation, this element of the EITP full-time school model, whose roll-out seems to have stagnated, could be extended.

The current administration seeks to regain administrative control of gang-controlled territories, and to reduce violence generally across 262 municipalities with the Plan de Control Territorial (Territorial Control Plan). The four-phased plan began in June 2019, with a reinforced policing phase. This was followed by a phase focused on providing youths with positive alternatives to joining gangs. This “social well-being” phase includes regaining community spaces and youth skill development through scholarships and training programmes, as in the former Safe El Salvador Plan, the PESS.

A key policy challenge facing El Salvador’s education system is to improve quality compulsory education in order to boost learning outcomes. Results across national and regional learning assessments point to inadequate levels of basic learning achievement across all levels of education.30 In Grades 2 and 3, 49% and 40% of students respectively cannot read at their grade level as per international literacy standards (Castro et al., 2018[120]).31 Students who are reaching the end of secondary education are leaving school with low achievement in mathematics, social studies, science, and language and literature. As per the national Prueba de Aprendizaje y Aptitudes para Egresados de Educación Media (PAES) examination, which was conducted as a high-stakes graduating exam until 2020, students scored an average of 5.5 out of 10 points across the four subjects (with 6 being the pass grade for a subject matter in El Salvador). Moreover, 23% attain only the lowest achievement level in language, 26% achieve only the lowest level in sciences, and 41% of students only achieve the lowest level of achievement in mathematics (Gavin et al., 2017[121]; Novella et al., 2018[122]; MINED, 2018[123]).

The results of the recent international assessment in 2019, (the Estudio Regional Comparativo y Explicativo, or ERCE), highlight the difficulties with regard to learning achievement in primary school, especially in mathematics. ERCE analysed the proficiency level of 3rd and 6th graders in reading and mathematics, and that of 6th graders (only) in science. The results show that the majority of students do not reach basic levels of proficiency. In reading, results in El Salvador are comparable to those of all countries in the region. In 3rd grade, 56% of students are above the minimum expected level (levels II and above), and 29% of 6th graders are above the minimum expected level (levels III and above) (Figure 7.17). For Latin America and the Caribbean, the corresponding proportions are, respectively, 56% and 31%. In mathematics, however, 50% of 3rd grade pupils are above the minimum expected level (levels II and above), but only 7.6% of 6th grade pupils are above the minimum expected level. The corresponding proportions for the region are, respectively, 52% and 17%. There is, therefore, a deficit in mathematics learning that accumulates between grades 3 and 6. In reading, the distribution of students by level between the two grades in El Salvador is similar to the regional average. In mathematics, however, it is observed not only that the number of students in levels III and above decreases, but also that the number of students in the lowest level of learning achievement increases.

Specific learning gaps in mathematics were already identified in one of the few earlier international learning assessment exercises in which El Salvador participated in the past. In the 2007 international Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), El Salvador was among the lowest-performing countries. In the study, 22% and 47% fourth grade students scored at or below the lowest benchmark level, indicating that they had only basic knowledge in mathematics and science (Martin, Mullis and Foy, 2008[124]; Vegas and Petrow, 2008[125]).32

Learning outcomes result from a variety of factors, including the quality of teaching and the learning environment. In El Salvador, the teaching workforce faces low levels of motivation. In addition, given the absence of teacher training that is specifically geared to the difficulties they face, teachers are not sufficiently prepared to face their daily challenges in the classroom. Marked as it is by significant and unequal gaps in infrastructure and materials provision, the learning environment in El Salvador perpetuates inequalities based on incomes, gender and territory. This section begins by looking at the need to strengthen evaluation in education. It then focuses on improving the quality of teaching, and on how to reduce inequalities between learning environments.

Evaluation and assessment in education play a fundamental role in improving the quality and management of education. Learning assessment is a key tool for achieving the education goals of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations. Assessment can serve multiple purposes. These include certifying and validating learning, providing an evidence base for policy formulation, accountability, and the shaping of teaching and learning practices (UNESCO, 2017[127]). The development of educational assessment in recent years has been marked by several trends, including a large increase in educational assessment activity in many countries, the development of indicators that are centred on students and learning outcomes, the use of assessments for more diverse purposes, and the importance of educational standards as a basis for assessment (OECD, 2013[128]).

In El Salvador, interest in educational evaluation emerged with the education reform of the 1990s, as a means of achieving quality education, but its development has been uneven. Evaluation and assessment practice has focused on learning assessment, which is centred on students’ learning outcomes rather than on teachers or the teaching process. Learning assessments in secondary education have been implemented regularly since 1997, when the PAES examination was introduced. From 2002, the PAES was a criterion-referenced test that measured proficiency in competencies established in the curricula for core subjects of study. Later, it also included social-emotional skills. A passing grade in PAES was a condition for university entrance and scholarships. As for basic education, between 1996 and 2014, assessments were implemented for students in grades 3, 6 and 9, (i.e. at the end of each cycle). They were implemented annually until 2004 and were census-based in 2005 and 2008 (assessing only language and mathematics). In 2010, however, they were discontinued, and they were administered only on a sample basis in subsequent years. In 2014, El Salvador began implementing diagnostic tests in 3rd, 6th and 9th grades, as well as in the 2nd year of high school (bachillerato). These tests were designed to be quarterly, but were implemented irregularly due to budget constraints. As of 2018, these sample tests (they are applied to a sample of schools) have been called Evaluations of Productive and Citizen Capabilities (Evaluaciones de Capacidades Productivas y Ciudadanas, or ECPYCs). They build on an approach that focuses on productive capacities beyond classroom learning33 (Cuéllar-Marchelli, Góchez and López, 2019[129]).

The institutional framework for educational evaluation and assessment has not yet been consolidated. Since the establishment of an Educational Quality Analysis Unit (Unidad de Análisis de Calidad Educativa) in the Ministry of Education in 1993, the institutional framework has undergone multiple overhauls, depriving it of the necessary stability. A National Learning Assessment System was created in 2001, but it ceased to exist in 2010. In 2014, the Ministry of Education proposed the creation of a National Education Evaluation System as one of the axes of the five-year strategic plan (MINED, 2015[20]). In 2014-19, important progress was made in establishing the practice of educational evaluation, but neither the National System of Educational Evaluation, nor its main components (evaluation units by educational level and the creation of the National Institute of Educational Evaluation), became institutionally established.

Learning assessment remains a priority for El Salvador. The Ministry of Education's strategic plan for the five-year period 2019-24 establishes evaluation as a foundational block (MINED, 2021[19]). A specific administrative unit dedicated to evaluation has been created in the Ministry of Education, at the National Directorate level (Dirección Nacional de Evaluación Educativa). In 2020, the creation of the National System of Educational Evaluation began with the aim of progressing towards a system that allows the different stakeholders to have holistic information on the education system as a whole, and seeking to evaluate not just learning, but also institutional management and curricula.

Since 2020, the standardised test that is applied to students in the second year of the baccalaureate, and who are about to leave, has been reformed. The new test (AVANZO) is an online test that seeks a more comprehensive assessment of students' skills. It aims to provide institutions, teachers, families, and the education system as a whole, with information on students' skills. It explores cognitive and socio-emotional skills, as well as vocational orientation, in order to encourage reflection and decision making.

El Salvador has recently participated in international assessment exercises, enriching the evidence base that is available for the design of education policies. The country participated in the ERCE 2019 regional test and has been participating in the 2022 edition of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). In addition to internationally comparable results, participation in international assessments presents opportunities to strengthen technical capabilities for educational assessment. El Salvador is on track to publish assessment results in December 2023, in full compliance with PISA technical standards. In addition to the data that will be collected through PISA, El Salvador has also developed capacities to implement large-scale international assessments, and to analyse the resulting data, interpret the results, and prepare a policy-oriented national report.

A robust institutional framework is necessary in order to further strengthen the educational evaluation system. It should be endowed with the necessary technical and financial capacity to develop a comprehensive programme of educational evaluation. Taking into account recent history in this regard, it is desirable in the first instance to centralise the evaluation functions of the Ministry of Education. As a second step, however, El Salvador should consider establishing an autonomous body for evaluation in education. Autonomous entities are less subject to political pressures, and financial autonomy would allow for greater respect for the periodicity of evaluations. This has been problematic in the past, and it reduces the value of evaluation, for example when it assesses competencies on a rotational basis and the cycle is not completed (Diálogo Interamericano, 2016[130]; OECD, 2013[128]). The law that created the Institute for Teacher Training (Instituto de Formación Docente, or INFOD) gives it a support function in processes of in-service teacher evaluation. It would be important for the construction of an educational evaluation system to be able to rely on INFOD, while maintaining a holistic vision of educational evaluation.

The dissemination and use of assessment results should also be strengthened. Analyses of specific evaluation exercises in El Salvador identify a lack of dissemination as an important element that limits the use of evidence and limited the effectiveness of evaluation in improving teaching practice and education policies (Cuéllar-Marchelli, Góchez and López, 2019[129]). For example, teacher training institutions can use the results to inform the strengths and weaknesses of teaching approaches and pedagogies in order to achieve national programme learning objectives; INFOD is well positioned to fulfil this function. Teaching programmes can then reassess the capacity of initial and in-service teacher training. National and international assessments are also an important element of accountability (OECD, 2013[128]). A strategy for the dissemination and use of the results of the different assessments should be designed. It should be aimed at teachers, but also at policy makers, academics, and members of the general public.

Given the number of out-of-school children and youths in El Salvador, the educational evaluation and assessment system could be complemented by out-of-school learning assessments. International experiences have mobilised inclusion-focused household surveys with community or civil society participation (e.g. ASER in India and Pakistan, Uwezo in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) as a complement to the school-based educational assessment system. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has developed a specific tool for assessing the competencies of out-of-school 15-year-olds. This has been piloted in countries in Latin America (Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay), within the PISA for Development (PISA-D) programme (Ward, 2020[131]). This tool, which is available as an optional module for PISA participants from 2022, will be available for implementation in El Salvador from its next participation in PISA (in 2025). This option has recently been implemented by Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Paraguay. It is designed for PISA countries that have significant numbers of out-of-school 15-year-olds. By taking the out-of-school assessment option, El Salvador would ensure that this population is no longer beyond the reach of PISA and the Ministry of Education, as it would assess the success of its education system in educating all children and young people, and not just those who have been able to stay in school until the age of 15. It could also serve as a basis for the development of a national assessment of educational attainment among out-of-school youths.

Given that the quality of teaching is one of the most important determinants of student learning in the education system (Hanushek and Woessmann, 2015[132]), providing learners with trained and motivated teachers is an immediate priority for El Salvador. The quality of teacher training, its relevance to teaching conditions, and the level of training, have been considered weak for many years in El Salvador (AED, 2005[133]). Successive reforms of teacher training have organised and set quality standards. However, the quality of teaching remains a challenge. The mismatch between the specialisations that are needed in the education system, and those that are available among graduate teachers, also remains a major problem (Cuéllar-Marchelli, 2015[134]).

Reforms addressing teacher motivation in low-income countries have found that meeting their basic needs (e.g. regular salary disbursements, housing in rural areas), and improving teacher-development programmes, are key factors of success (Richardson, 2014[135]). Motivating the teaching workforce remains a policy challenge in El Salvador, which has tried to strengthen the capacity of the workforce at several points. Examples include the 2012 National Policy for Teachers’ Professional Development (the Política Nacional de Desarrollo Profesional Docente), and the 2014-19 Five-Year Development Plan. The creation of INFOD in 2018 is a step forward in the drive to create training norms and guidelines, but implementation has been slow due to union resistance and limited budget allocations.

The National Plan for In-Service Teacher Training in the Public Sector (Plan Nacional de Formación de Docentes en Servicio en el Sector Público) (2015-19) articulates the elements that are necessary to strengthen teachers' capabilities. Appropriate career management for teachers, combined with relevant in-service training, and pedagogical mechanisms for managing diverse classrooms, should equip teachers with the knowledge and the skills that they need to use classroom teaching time effectively. This will enable them to support student development through high-quality instructional and assessment practices (Best, Tournier and Chimier, 2018[136]). Teachers need strong technical support and resources provided by teacher trainers if they are to feel prepared to deal with challenging circumstances – both in and around their classrooms. Furthermore, salaries and career progression in El Salvador are not clearly linked to the difficulty of the teaching environment, to completed in-service training, or to positive evaluations. On the contrary, in El Salvador, teachers are promoted on the basis of seniority, without direct links to performance or teaching ability.

The OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) of lower secondary school teachers identified that teachers were motivated to change by a collaborative professional environment, and by observations or assessments of their teaching practices. In El Salvador, there is little research on teachers' abilities in the classroom. This leads to a gap in information that otherwise would be useful for improving teaching practices, as well as for promotions, career progression, or other forms of motivation and recognition of good performance (Cuéllar-Marchelli, 2015[134]). Guidelines and teaching competencies are not articulated in such a way as to be usable by teachers themselves, or by external evaluators, to assess teachers' work. The PAES learning assessment, and its successor, AVANZO, are limited to students who complete secondary education. Their results are not as useful in the evaluation of teaching practices as a learning-assessment programme that measures classes or a classroom observation programme would be.

Salvadoran teachers have relatively high levels of qualifications. Three-quarters of them have completed a three-year university-level teacher training programme (ISCED 6), and 12% have a teaching high school diploma (bachillerato) (Taddei et al., 2016[88]). Initial training for teachers (Formación Inicial Docente, or FID) is conducted mostly in private universities, although a large proportion of students are enrolled at the national public university, the Universidad de El Salvador. INFOD, the national teacher-training institute, was founded in 2018, with the double mission of training teachers and co-ordinating the teacher-training system. To date, it has not carried out initial teacher training. All programmes follow a national curriculum that is regulated by a legal framework, but poor student learning outcomes in the PAES have pointed to a need for reinforced teacher training on teaching pedagogies.

Initial teacher education suffers from many of the problems of the public education system. These include a lack of specialists, which leads 53% of teacher educators to teach subjects in areas for which they were not trained. It also suffers from a lack of development of research activity, with a very small number of teacher educators holding doctorates, and two thirds not having carried out academic research. Finally, despite the guiding role of the Ministry of Education, there is significant curricular dispersion in teacher training, reflecting unfinished curricular reforms (González and Avelar, 2019[137]).

Despite the country’s relatively strong teacher-training system, El Salvador faces several difficulties in maintaining a motivated workforce. The management and deployment of teachers, as well as their career prospects, are critical issues. Entry into the teaching career in El Salvador is regulated by the Teaching Career Law (the Ley de la Carrera Docente). This law stipulates that only people who have registered in the relevant career registry (Registro Escalafonario) can teach. In order to be eligible, candidates must be graduates of university teacher-training programmes, or be professionals from other fields with a university degree and have passed a one-year pedagogical training course. In practice, the system has generated a large oversupply of teachers, which has been documented for decades (Cuéllar-Marchelli, 2015[134]; Merino and Galdámez, 2019[138]).

The oversupply of teachers, and the system for allocating positions, limit the motivation of potential teachers and hinders the efficient distribution of human resources. The allocation of posts, and any transfers, are centralised through the Qualifying Tribunal of the Teaching Profession (the Tribunal Calificador de la Carrera Docente), although the administration of each educational establishment is the one that issues the vacancy notice and receives applications. By law, the allocation of posts (at least of titular posts, registered in the Salary Law) by the qualifying court must take into account the seniority of graduation, which generates a waiting list for access to teaching posts. Recent graduates remain unemployed, or under-employed, for up to three years, and 40% of them have spent more than a year without a post after graduation. In response, in 2012, the regulation for initial teacher education programmes was adjusted, with higher requirements for entry. While enrolment in initial teacher training programmes has declined compared to the 20 000 people reported in 1997, it remains high, standing at around 12 500 since 2015 (MINED, 2021[139]). By contrast, in 2017 only 1 105 vacancies became vacant due to retirement (Quiñónez, Lizama and Narváez, 2018[140]).

Despite the oversupply of teachers in aggregate, there is a significant gap in terms of supply and demand for specialisations. The demand for trained teachers in critical subjects, such as mathematics and science, is high, but a surplus of teachers exists in other subjects (Quiñónez, Lizama and Narváez, 2018[140]). This mismatch leads to teaching challenges in the classroom, as teachers are often deployed to schools without consideration of their field of training, or of the number of years of experience that they have (Taddei et al., 2016[88]). For example, an estimated 84% of pre-primary teachers have not received specialised training for the pre-primary level, which requires specific pedagogies and attitudes in order to promote early childhood development, as well as to develop early literacy and numeracy skills (World Bank, 2019[58]). Teachers who are assigned to secondary education (the tercer ciclo and educación media) can also be unprepared for teaching at those levels, or in those subjects, and they see this as a major challenge to performing well in or enjoying their work.

In view of the oversupply of teachers, it is important to review human-resource management processes for the teacher workforce, as well as the criteria for entry, advancement, and career development. The importance of seniority in the career ladder should be adjusted by criteria of merit, and of adequacy to needs in terms of specialisations and competencies. There is also scope to review the composition of teachers' remuneration. According to data compiled by Candray Menjívar (2019[141]), teachers’ salaries in the public sector are significantly higher than those in the private sector. This leads to an oversupply for vacancies in the public sector. In addition, increases in remuneration that occur because of seniority limit the impact of incentives, for example for teachers working in remote areas. They also limit incentives to acquire further training. For example, a teacher with a bachelor's degree may be eligible to enter the career ladder at level II, which corresponds to a 10% increase in salary. However, they can obtain the same salary increase with five years of seniority. Given that initial teacher training does not grant the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree, the financial incentive does not carry much weight, as it means delaying entry into the labour market for up to three years. Moreover, there is no salary recognition for further training beyond this system. By contrast, more than half of OECD countries provide for additional remuneration for teachers who obtain training or qualifications beyond the minimum (OECD, 2019[142]).

Donor-supported programmes, such as the EITP full-time school programme articulated in the 2009-14 Education Sector Strategy, have been instrumental in filling training gaps and providing targeted in-service training courses, as well as teaching and learning materials to support the teaching workforce. However, they are not always linked to sustainable outcomes in terms of working conditions (Box 7.9).

Single-teacher schools (escuelas unidocentes), or schools with multi-grade classrooms, are an important part of the rural education landscape in El Salvador (Table 7.4). As of 2018, nearly all unidocente and bidocente schools were in rural areas (94%), and in public schools (98%) (MINED, 2019[144]). In 2014, estimates found that 3% of students in El Salvador were in one- or two-teacher schools (Edwards, Martin and Flores, 2015[11]).

Teachers who are deployed to rural areas often teach in fields for which they have received no specific training, and only 23% of teachers have received specific training on multi-grade classrooms (MINED, 2016[86]; MINED, 2019[144]).34 Single-teacher schools also are characterised by fewer hours of teaching for students, and less access to teaching and learning materials, including technology (Quiñónez, Lizama and Narváez, 2018[140]).35 Teachers in rural areas receive less pedagogical support, with fewer visits from inspectors and peer technical advisors than urban teachers (Cuéllar-Marchelli, 2015[134]). These conditions have a significant impact on the quality of teaching. Salvadoran students in single-teacher schools in rural areas have significantly lower performance in reading than students in standard rural schools or low-income students (Castro et al., 2018[120]).

Providing teachers in rural areas with continuous peer support and in-service training can help to increase both the quality of teaching and student-learning outcomes, especially in multi-grade schools. Teaching in multi-grade classrooms requires specific skills, such as more careful planning. The need for increased attention to the diversity of learning needs adds further to the pedagogical challenge of teaching. The Ministry of Education and numerous other organisations dispense in-service training courses, but they are not always available to teachers (especially those in rural areas). Also, they do not always respond to teachers’ current needs (e.g. updates to curriculum changes, distance learning, multi-grade classroom management, approaches to early-grade reading and numeracy, inclusive education). Furthermore, they do not improve motivation (Quiñónez, Lizama and Narváez, 2018[140]). Lessons from Colombia’s New Schools (Escuelas Nuevas) could benefit education reforms to support teachers, improve learning in multi-grade classrooms, and reduce drop-out rates (Box 7.10).

There is strong evidence of the role that peer networks among teachers can play in improving motivation, especially in conflictual settings and in rural or isolated school environments (Falk et al., 2019[150]). Peer networks can be organised by cluster schools, or with mobile teacher trainers for difficult-to-reach areas. However, they require adequate resources and qualification equivalencies for teacher motivation (Singh and Sarkar, 2012[151]). In El Salvador, the model of the Integrated system of Inclusive Full-Time Schools (SI-EITP) has promoted the organisation of teachers into local networks. Although the SI-EITP covers only a fraction of educational establishments, it is an important foundation upon which to build the support mechanisms that teachers require. El Salvador should provide teachers in rural areas with continuous support in the form of mentoring, in-service teacher training, and psycho-social support. Monitoring and expanding promising initiatives, such as El Salvador’s Teacher Learning Circles (círculos de aprendizaje docente), could facilitate in-service training. These forms of support increase teachers’ well-being through mindfulness strategies and the development of socio-emotional competencies, and help to improve their motivation, job satisfaction and resilience (FHI 360, 2016[152]).

The quality of the learning environment in El Salvador can be a driver of increased school progression, and it can improve learning outcomes – especially for vulnerable groups.36 Inequalities between regions in the school environment – particularly in terms of basic infrastructure, pedagogical materials, school coverage, and school environments – deepen existing inequalities in learning opportunities that are linked to geographic location, gender or income levels.

Inequality in the overall quality of schools creates deep disparities between urban and rural areas. According to a school quality index of publicly available data for 13 indicators in five thematic areas (institutional performance, student performance, learning materials, school atmosphere, school environment), the schools that are of the lowest quality are found in the coastal regions of La Paz, La Libertad and Usulután, as well as in the central regions across most of the country, and most of Santa Ana and La Unión (Figure 7.18).

School infrastructure in rural areas in particular, has been notably underfunded compared to urban areas, and primary schools tend to have poorer conditions than lower and upper secondary schools (Álvarez, 2020[154]; UNESCO, 2020[27]). Infrastructure is not inclusive of all children, especially at the primary level, where less than a third of schools have adaptive materials and infrastructure for children with disabilities. Not all Salvadoran schools provide all learners with a safe and healthy learning environment. In 2019, about 18% of all schools did not have access to basic drinking water, and 12% did not have basic sanitation services. Drinking-water coverage is the lowest in rural schools, despite recent progress. The latest data that are available indicate that the share of rural schools without improved sources of water fell from 19% to 2% between 2011 and 2021 (although there is no data on whether those sources supplied water reliably). According to the latest data available, which date from 2015, 19% of rural schools lacked improved sources with available supply. As many as 14% of rural schools (and 8% of urban schools) do not have a sufficient number of toilets (UNICEF/WHO, 2022[155]). Schools also are regularly subject to natural hazards (e.g. earthquakes, tropical storms), and many students attend schools that are considered unsafe and inadequate. One survey found that 830 000 students learn in spaces with high seismic vulnerability, where 16% of the learning spaces had a high potential of collapse, and 84% had a high potential of structural damage during an earthquake (World Bank, 2019[58]).

Across El Salvador’s schools, the learning environment and learning materials are also outdated or missing. As of 2016, only 13.6% of schools had libraries, and only 24.6% had science laboratories (FES, 2016[153]). Although electricity coverage is high across the country, reaching about 95% of schools at all education levels, the use of modern teaching materials is weak. Nearly two-thirds of all schools were equipped with computers as of 2018, a figure that has certainly increased with the drive to provide teachers and students with computers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 2018, however, respectively only 23.2% and 35.8% of primary and lower-secondary schools had Internet access for pedagogical purposes (UNESCO, 2020[27]; UIS/TCG, 2020[156]).

Evidence from El Salvador shows that, as in most countries, many students and teachers still have problems accessing online information for remote learning. While 94.5% of households had mobile phones, only 16.7% had computers, and only 23.5% had internet access as of 2019. These are among the lowest levels in the region (Table 7.5). Compared to other countries in the region, Salvadoran households had a low level of connectivity, leaving some 1 330 417 students without possible connectivity during the quarantine in El Salvador for COVID-19 (ITU, 2020[157]).37

In addition, there are wide digital gaps by income levels, and across territories. The poorest households are three time less likely to have access to the Internet than better-off households (31% compared to 92%). In addition, rural households are disadvantaged compared to urban households (DIGESTYC, 2020[35]). Public access to the Internet is limited in rural areas, where only 35% of people aged 10 and above have access to it (even when considering access outside the home), compared to 59.7% of persons in urban areas (ITU, 2021[158]). Recent efforts have sought to close the digital gap, with disbursements of USD 450 million to equip 1.2 million students with connected tablets (grades 1 to 4) or computers (grade 5 to end of upper secondary). Teachers will also have free access to the Internet and digital devices. International experiences such as the Plan Ceibal (one laptop per child), in Uruguay, underscore the importance of providing training to teachers on how they can incorporate computers into their teaching practices in order to improve their students’ learning outcomes (de Melo, Machado and Miranda, 2014[160]; de Melo et al., 2013[161]; Cuéllar-Marchelli, 2021[162]).

In addition to well-adapted resources, it is also necessary to develop pedagogical tools that are adapted to the rural environment, and to promote their use. The small size of many rural schools is a challenge due to the multitude of multi-grade classrooms. However, small size is also an opportunity to adopt more personalised methods. At the same time, in rural settings, schools play a key role in the social fabric, which may allow for greater parental involvement, but also may place an additional burden on teachers. Contextualising teaching practice and education policy is necessary in order to equip schools and teachers with the tools that they need. Analysis by the OECD also highlights the importance of integrating rural schools into networks of schools and teachers, in order to form a system of support, and promote the effective use of resources (Echazarra and Radinger, 2019[166]).

The trajectories of children and youths in the Salvadoran education system determine their ability to acquire competencies and skills, and to participate successfully in the labour market. They also determine the country’s ability to achieve national development objectives. Keeping children and youths in quality schools long enough to obtain the needed competencies is a first barrier to successful labour-market preparation in El Salvador. Among those who do not attend school, or who leave too early, their prospects for formal employment are weakened. A second barrier relates to the ability for secondary schools to prepare students for work by teaching practical labour market skills, and by adjusting curricula according to the changing needs of employers. Both barriers are inter-related: children and youths are not motivated to stay in schools that are not viewed as relevant, or do not provide them with promising opportunities for improved wealth or employment. The role of quality education in the development of competencies is fundamental to improving access both to higher levels of education and to opportunities for formal employment. Yet in El Salvador, the disconnect between the education system and employers reinforces the weak attachment to schooling, especially beyond compulsory education.

By the time that Salvadoran youths reach the age where they can obtain technical or academic skills through education, many have already dropped out of school, and are also not working. About a quarter of 15 to 24-year-olds are not in education, employment or training (NEET) in El Salvador. Compared to benchmark countries and the region, El Salvador’s level of youth inclusion is problematic. The total rate of NEET is 27.9%, 7 percentage points higher than the LAC average (20.5%). The gap has persisted at high levels over the past ten years.

Education opportunities are inequitably distributed across the country, with marked disadvantages for vulnerable groups. These groups have disproportionally high rates of young people who are not in education, employment or training. The gender gap is 12 points higher than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is almost double the average regional gap (Figure 7.19). Domestically, this translates into a 22.8 percentage point gap in the NEET rate between men and women. In addition, young people in rural areas, and those from the lowest income quintiles, have higher rates than the national average (Figure 7.20).

The status of youths who are not in employment, education or training has worsened over the past decade, with people who are unemployed rather than merely being inactive in the labour force accounting for a greater share of NEET (OECD Development Centre, 2017[98]). Since 2008, youth unemployment has increased relative to adult unemployment, and young people who do work are more likely to do so in the informal labour market (Novella et al., 2018[122]). The lack of appropriate educational and job opportunities for youths has contributed to the formation of gangs (OECD Development Centre, 2017[98]; OECD/CAF/ECLAC, 2018[168]).

Young people do not perceive education as giving them a sufficient return in the labour market to compensate for the costs of education. Among 15-24-year-olds who do not attend either school or another educational programme, 21% say that they do not attend because of lack of interest, 33% because they need to work, and 23% because it is too expensive, according to the 2019 EHPM survey (DIGESTYC, 2020[35]). Lack of interest is the main reason for 15-17-year-olds (40%), while for young adults, the need to work (34%), and the direct cost (25%), are the most important reasons.

The financial return to education is relatively low in El Salvador. As might be expected in a country with relatively low educational attainment, the return to primary education is relatively high. Workers with primary education earn wages that are almost 30% higher than those who did not complete primary school (comparing workers of the same age and region). However, despite relatively low educational attainment in the country, returns to secondary education are among the lowest in the region (22%). In general, countries with lower shares of the population with university education tend to have higher returns to tertiary education. In El Salvador, however, although the return to tertiary education is much higher than those for lower levels of education, it is modest compared to other countries, even compared to countries with higher levels of educational attainment (Figure 7.21).

Increasing the relevance of education will require efforts in multiple areas. First, it is necessary to establish institutional mechanisms that can identify the skills and profiles that are needed by the productive sector and the labour market, and to translate them into appropriate curricula at all levels of education, especially those that lead to labour market entry, (i.e. secondary education, especially technical-secondary, and higher education). Second, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) has the potential to generate applicable skills for the population more rapidly. In addition, increasing the capacity of the TVET system, and bringing the systems of technical education and vocational training closer together, offer pathways to strengthen the skills of the working-age population.

A better-educated and more skilled workforce can enhance productivity. More educated and skilled workers facilitate the adoption of new technologies and technological advances. In emerging-market and developing countries like El Salvador, better education, and higher levels of skills, can contribute to shifting to sectors that are more intensive in skills and education, moving up the value chain and shifting to the production of more complex goods with a higher level of value added. A World Bank report finds that between 1960 and 2018, productivity in economies with a higher level of education grew about one percentage point faster than in economies with lower education levels, after controlling for initial productivity levels38 (World Bank, 2020[169]).

El Salvador faces skills mismatches. Many young Salvadorians are either under-educated (they work in sectors that require higher levels of education than their actual levels of education), or over-educated (they have too much or irrelevant education for the sectors they are working in). El Salvador’s negative skills gap in education for youths aged 15 to 19 was estimated at 35% in 2017, with a positive gap of close to 50% (ESEN, 2019[170]), bearing in mind that these gaps were estimated relative to arbitrary levels of education across sectors.

Higher skills mismatches are associated with lower levels of labour productivity. Under-qualification and over-qualification are particularly costly. Under-qualified workers mainly reduce levels of productivity within firms. A high share of over-skilled workers can, in addition, reduce the efficiency of resource allocation in the economy, since skilled labour is retained in low-productivity firms, and high-productivity firms may, therefore, face difficulties in contracting skilled workers. Skills mismatches explain a non-trivial share of cross-country variation in labour productivity. For example, Italy and Spain could boost productivity by 10% by reducing skills mismatches to best-practice levels (Adalet McGowan and Andrews, 2017[171]) (Adalet McGowan and Andrews, 2015[172]). In developing and emerging market countries, including El Salvador, productivity gains from reducing skills mismatches are likely to be even larger, since skills mismatches tend to be more severe than in OECD and developed countries.

There is a shortage of technical, digital, foreign-language and soft skills in El Salvador. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index 2019, in the skills dimension, El Salvador performed worst in terms of digital skills among the active population (rank 131/141, score 36/100), and skills of the future workforce (112/141, score 52.7/100) (WEF, 2019[173]). In order to develop the business-services sector in El Salvador further, there is a need for more English speakers and computer scientists. The development of the tourism sector requires more foreign language speakers (ESEN, 2019[170]). Less than 1% of students in technical education in El Salvador are enrolled in careers such as aeronautics, electro-mechanics, customs logistics, software development, agriculture, or tourism (FUSADES, 2018[174]).

There is also a shortage of specialised technicians and education in soft skills and creative skills in El Salvador.39 In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness index 2019, El Salvador ranked 129 out of 141 countries in critical thinking in education, with a score of only 26.4 out of 100 (WEF, 2019[173]) Critical thinking is very important to foster creativity from a young age. According to the 2019 Entrepreneurial Competitiveness Survey by the Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarollo Económico y Social (FUSADES), Salvadoran firms’ main training priorities are: marketing and sales strategies; production techniques; quality control; information technologies; accounting and finance; and management and administrative tasks (FUSADES, 2021[175]).

Currently, employers’ expectations do not match the academic competencies that are stipulated in academic degrees. According to the analysis of Vaquerano-Amaya et al. (2017[176]), the gap can be as high as 70% of generic competencies (on the basis of a list of 27 generic competencies that was established for the region) (Proyecto Tuning América Latina, 2007[177]). Employers in El Salvador state a preference for students with higher education degrees (secondary and tertiary diplomas), English-language skills, and higher test scores. They also express the need for youths to be better equipped with relevant socio-emotional, non-academic and non-technical skills, such as “communication, teamwork, work ethic, relationship building, decision making, leadership, autonomy, responsibility, flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-control, social-awareness, conflict resolution, and self-esteem”, which are critical in advanced production processes (Florez and Jayaram, 2016[178]).

As a consequence of insufficient levels of education, and mismatches in terms of skills, many private companies in El Salvador face difficulties in finding appropriately skilled labour. In 2016, 25.6 % of firms in El Salvador identified an inadequately educated workforce as a major constraint. Poorly educated workers were a more important constraint for the textile sector and services industries (Figure 7.22) (World Bank, 2016[179]). Business services, digital and financial services, the tourism sector, manufacturing of complex goods, and organic agriculture are among the other sectors that are strongly affected by skills shortages.40

Many companies organise technical education and training for their employees to compensate for skills gaps. In 2016, 53.8% of the companies covered by the 2016 World Bank Enterprise Survey offered formal training to their employees, compared to 43.2% on average in Latin America and the Caribbean. This number is even higher in retail and other service industries, textiles, and other manufacturing (World Bank, 2016[179]) (Figure 7.22). According to FUSADES’s 2019 Entrepreneurial Competitiveness Survey, 89% of large companies in El Salvador trained new employees, as did 66% of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). Companies’ main source of finance for training employees is from their own financial resources (89.5%), and companies frequently organise training for employees through El Salvador’s Institute for Professional Training (the Instituto Salvadoreño de Formación Profesional, or INSAFORP) (FUSADES, 2021[175]). INSAFORP is financed by contributions from the private sector and offers training in technical, administrative, computer and language skills for the employees of private companies. Depending on the training course, private companies sometimes have to pay the entire cost of the training for their employees, or part of it, in addition to the compulsory contributions that companies with more than ten employees in El Salvador have to make to INSAFORP’s budget (INSAFORP, n.d.[180]).

The degree of collaboration between private-sector firms, on the one hand, and universities and other educational establishments, on the other, is rather low. According to FUSADES’s 2019 Entrepreneurial competitiveness survey, 70% of private companies in El Salvador do not collaborate with educational institutions, and this number is even higher for MSMEs (80%) (FUSADES, 2021[175]). In the Global innovation Index for 2020, El Salvador is ranked 120 out of 131 countries with regard to collaboration in research between industry and university, with a score of only 27.2/100 (Cornell University, INSEAD, and WIPO, 2020[181]).

Discussions and reports that have engaged with employers and educators in El Salvador have revealed the disconnect between the labour market and the education system. Salvadoran employers believe that education institutions, teachers, and researchers in higher education, are responsible for preparing youths for employment by developing quality training programmes, imparting personal and professional development, and adapting to labour-market needs. One of the functions of the Salvadoran education system is to promote skills that respond to the needs of the economy, including entrepreneurship, leadership skills, digital skills, socio-emotional skills, and also the needs of society and of young people themselves.41

The changing needs of the economy and society call for changes in the skills-development system. The combination of the global trends of digitalisation, globalisation, demographic ageing and migration implies changes in the skills that societies need. In turn, it requires the adoption of a lifelong-learning strategy, in which each society and economy makes maximum use of the skills that are available to it. This implies considering skills development not only for young people and the education system, but also for the productive sector, organised workers and employers, labour market institutions, the innovation, science and technology system, and civil society, among others.

El Salvador should adopt a comprehensive skills strategy as a basis for education and training reform. Inter-institutional co-ordination and funding frameworks are the biggest challenges for skills training systems worldwide (OECD, 2019[182]). A skills strategy with a whole-of-government perspective, based on a mapping of all skills development activities, would allow for clear objectives to be assigned to the whole training system, and for appropriate co-ordination and information-management mechanisms to be put in place.

In order to align the educational offer with the private sector’s demand for skills, El Salvador could improve its efforts to identify current and future skills needs on a regular basis. Individuals, educational institutions, and firms in El Salvador require information on which skills are either available or lacking in the labour market, so as to make decisions about which skills to develop, and in which sectors to invest. The government requires this information in order to design relevant educational policies and programmes (OECD, 2019[182]).

A robust labour market observatory, with sufficient technical capabilities, is an important ingredient for the identification of skills needs. In the framework of a World Bank project, a Labour Market Observatory was created in El Salvador in 2015, aiming to improve the quality of labour market information to guide policy making processes (World Bank, 2019[183]). However, this Observatory was initially created with limited sustainability and capacity (Riveros Rojas, 2013[184]). The Ministry of Labour and Social Security is currently developing, in collaboration with other public institutions, a platform called the Labour Information System (the Sistema de Información Laboral, or SIMEL). This platform gathers key information and indicators in order to measure the real evolution of employment in the labour market. It is planned for SIMEL to include information on the current state of the labour market, its future trends, the characteristics of the labour force, and labour demand and supply.

In the future, the evidence base of SIMEL could serve as a basis to identify current qualifications and expectations with regard to needs. Regular skills-forecasting and evaluation exercises could gather information and data on the types of professional profiles, qualifications and fields of study that are in demand in the labour market. Periodic monitoring of the labour market through a labour market observatory with a proven analytical capacity would also contribute to that endeavour (OECD, 2019[182]). In Norway and Portugal, successful skills forecasting and assessment exercises have been carried out and used to develop skills policies (Box 7.14).

Improved regular communication and co-ordination between the government, the private sector, and educational institutions is important for the success of Skills Assessment and Anticipation (SAA) exercises, and for the identification of skills needs. For this purpose, stakeholders in El Salvador, such as employers and businesses, trade unions, educational institutions, and government institutions, could be regularly engaged through a dedicated council or committee (OECD, 2019[182]). The FOMILENIO II project (the Millennium Challenge Corporation project in El Salvador) has tried to align technical education and training with demand on the labour market, and has supported the establishment of sectoral committees in order to bring together the private sector and educational institutions. By the end of February 2019, nine such committees had been established. These were in textiles and apparel, tourism, plastics, poultry, construction, sugar, coffee, and information technology, plus a specific committee for female-led micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) (FOMILENIO II, 2020[185]). These committees would serve to identify different sectors’ educational needs (FUSADES, 2018[174]). This promising initiative should be institutionalised, and should include training institutions, the Ministry of Education and INSAFORP in the dialogue process. It could also be complemented with capacity to carry out foresight exercises with regard to needs in terms of skills or qualifications. This could be housed in the Ministry of Labour, INSAFORP, or the Ministry of Education. The active participation of government institutions in this initiative is key in order to guarantee its success in the long run. Both Norway and Portugal have established dedicated bodies for co-ordination between different stakeholders on the identification of skills needs and skills development, and these could serve as examples for El Salvador (Box 7.14).

Promoting co-ordination, co-operation and collaboration in skills formation will be a significant challenge. The work of FOMILENIO II has set the stage by supporting the Government of El Salvador through the establishment of a number of sectoral councils and a governance structure for linking the institutions that are responsible for technical and vocational training. The policy for coordinating technical education, vocational training, and the productive sector (the Política de articulación de la educación técnica, la formación profesional y el aparato productivo), drafted in the framework of FOMILENIO II, sets out an institutional structure. At its head is a council for co-ordinating technical and vocational training (the Consejo de Coordinación de la Educación Técnica y la Formación Profesional, or CCETFP). The council includes the education minister, the president of INSAFORP, and two members from the private-sector joint sectoral committee (the Junta de Comités Sectoriales) (FOMILENIO et al., 2019[18]). It is a permanent forum of dialogue and co-ordination, to co-ordinate actions between the technical education system (governed by the Ministry of Education), the vocational training system (governed by INSAFORP), and the productive sector. The CCETFP was established in 2019 and was one of the bodies that received the final deliverables of FOMILENIO II. The CCETFP is working on a roadmap for the implementation of a national qualifications framework for El Salvador (INSAFORP, 2020[189]). Ensuring the sustainability of the institutional framework will be critical for building upon the work carried out towards a national competency framework.

Looking ahead, El Salvador should consider extending the membership of the CCETFP to foster a whole-of-government approach to skills. Similar institutional arrangements in OECD countries tend also to feature participation by other relevant ministries, as well as by the usual tripartite constituents, and also by other actors in skills formation. In countries such as Ireland or Norway, skills councils of this kind have been set up with the explicit mandate of delivering on national skills policies (OECD, 2019[182]).

To broaden the scope of co-ordinated action between training institutions and productive sectors, it is also necessary to continue support for the creation of sectoral committees beyond those initially created, and to ensure the sustainability of the newly created bodies. To that end, it is important to develop capacity in the governing institutions (the Ministry of Education and INSAFORP), to support the Joint Sector Committee and the CCETFP, and to establish a sustainable financing plan.

Co-operation between the productive sector and educational institutions can also be beneficial in other configurations. Collaboration between the private sector and educational institutions (e.g. through internships and collaborative programmes) can contribute to generating the right skills, and to the development of new value chains (OECD, 2017[190]; OECD, 2015[191]). In El Salvador’s aeronautics sector, the involvement of educational institutions in the value chain has made it possible to set up a technical curriculum in aeronautics in El Salvador. The possibility of training technical staff according to international standards in aeronautics has contributed to the success of this industry in the country. Students in El Salvador can pursue two years of internationally recognised university studies that prepare them to become qualified technicians in the field of aeronautics. El Salvador is home to the largest aircraft maintenance centre in Latin America. The centre was established in 1983 and is operated by Aeroman. This company employs approximately 3 000 Salvadoran workers, and has had a significant economic multiplier effect, creating thousands of indirect jobs (Colantuoni, 2020[192]). Plycem, a manufacturing company that produces fibre cement in El Salvador, is another success story (Estrategia & Negocios, 2013[193]). This local company was able to become a major exporter of fibre cement to other Latin American countries through the complete automation and incorporation of artificial intelligence and new technologies in its production process. It was supported by a partnership with the robotics faculty of a local university in El Salvador in order to train the amount of technical staff that were required (López, 2015[194]). More partnerships between private companies and educational institutions following these examples could support the development of new industries in El Salvador, while also enhancing the productivity of existing ones.

Public policies can promote integrated and ongoing links between, on the one hand, education and training institutions and providers and, on the other, businesses and industry in order to tailor educational programmes to business needs (OECD, 2015[191]). New regulatory frameworks can facilitate the participation of industry and civil society in the governing boards of institutions of higher education and public research, and promote consultation with stakeholders in industry and civil-society in the decision-making processes of these institutions. Another strategy is to encourage “co-creation”, which involves industry, civil society, academia and government, and which also aims to solve broader societal challenges. Examples of co-creation are joint research laboratories in which education and research institutions work together with industry (e.g. CoLABS [Laboratórios Colaborativos] in Portugal), two-way mobility of researchers (e.g. through industrial doctorates), or the establishment of new intermediary institutions (e.g. Catapult Centres in the UK) (OECD, 2019[195]).

Recent efforts in El Salvador in the context of FOMILENIO, and the development of the Modelo Educativo Gradual de Aprendizaje Técnico y Tecnológico (MEGATEC), suggest that co-ordination is possible when stronger institutional frameworks are in place. The FOMILENIO experience highlights the need for the education system to develop a modern curriculum in co-ordination with the private sector. Sector councils were developed to draw up competency-based frameworks for each sector. Employers defined typologies of critical skills for inclusion in the curriculum, and had the opportunity to identify specific technologies, machinery, or techniques that correspond to real work situations.

Other initiatives in the Salvadoran education system have attempted to bridge the competencies gap between training institutes and employers. In the technical pathway in upper secondary education, new curriculum material was added that addresses socio-emotional skills in the workplace. The recent broadening of the scope of assessment in the AVANZO test (which has replaced the PAES) will measure student competencies at the time of graduation with regards to cognitive skills, socio-emotional skills, and vocational orientation. It will also provide a better diagnosis of the kinds of curriculum reform that are necessary. The development of competency frameworks could guide changes to the secondary curriculum, but the lag between the rapidly changing needs of the Salvadoran labour market, and processes of curriculum development, could hinder their efficacy.

A National Qualifications Framework (NQF) is an essential complement to needs identification processes. An NQF would serve as a basis for translating the identified competences into profiles and curricula. An NQF is an instrument to develop and classify qualifications according to a set of criteria regarding the levels of learning that have been achieved. This set of criteria can be implicit in the descriptors of qualifications, or explicitly defined by a set of level descriptors (OECD, 2008[196]). The NQF is a central element for technical and vocational education and training systems. It identifies the most significant or relevant vocational qualifications for the economic environment. It then describes, classifies, and orders them according to criteria (sectoral, functional, skill levels, or other), as agreed between the productive sectors and the respective systems. Furthermore, it identifies the training that is associated with these qualifications, and that should correspond to the supply emanating from both systems.

The adoption of an NQF would also be a tool to allow more flexible educational pathways. This is already possible to some extent. For example, MEGATECs allow technical secondary-school graduates to continue their studies, and to obtain higher-education diplomas. A framework that serves as a basis for recognising skills would allow workers to update their skills in higher education institutions, including universities, beyond what is possible in the current system, which dictates differentiated trajectories according to choices that students made in secondary school.

An NQF is a fundamental tool for the development of a skills certification system. This is particularly relevant in El Salvador, given the high level of informality in some sectors that are linked to crafts or professional services. In El Salvador, a proposal has been put forward for a general system for the certification of competencies (a Sistema General de Certificación de Competencias). The proposed system includes the possibility of promoting the certification of competencies through various channels that would allow for different exits from the formal education system. It would also allow economically active people to enter the system so that they may progress academically. The development of a system with these characteristics would be a major input for orderly skills development in El Salvador.

Strengthening the technical and vocational track in secondary education (the Bachillerato técnico) is a practical scheme to attract youths who are at risk of dropping out of school. The high levels of people who classify as NEET in El Salvador, especially among the most vulnerable populations, underscore the urgency of rapidly increasing both their skills, and their prospects of employability. In terms of human development, secondary schools have the responsibility to develop a relevant quality education system that attracts youths, keeps them in school, and builds their skills for local employment opportunities.

Dual training in TVET is an opportunity to increase employability among young people. In El Salvador, as in many other lower middle-income countries, the emergence of new markets, and changing economic paradigms, have created challenges for education systems. In response, these systems need to adapt rapidly and match workforce training to the market’s requirements. Countries that have combined school- and work-based learning (mostly at the upper-secondary level) are those with the highest employment rates for adults (OECD, 2020[197]). Combining training opportunities through work within individual education levels is essential for promoting youth inclusion in the labour market. Concerted efforts from the TVET sector and private business can benefit from a community-based approach that reinforces demand in the local labour market, promotes entrepreneurship, and develops work ethics (OECD Development Centre, 2017[98]).

In particular, technical and vocational curricula have the capacity to respond rapidly to employment opportunities across regions in El Salvador, as evidenced by several pilot projects to strengthen TVET. These have been conducted since 2007 by FOMILENIO, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, in the northern and coastal zones of El Salvador. The pilot project was composed of several activities, which began with a mapping and an assessment of needs, in order to understand employers’ requirements in terms of training. Three sectors were selected for the priority development of new secondary TVET curricula and training modules (agro-industry, innovation and service businesses), in the northern zone of the country. The project’s activities included large infrastructure investments, teacher training, competency-based teaching modules, and the assessment of curricula (including technical and socioemotional skills), and students.42 The random assignment evaluation found that the enrolment of students rose. In addition, it found that learning outcomes increased, with higher PAES scores (both overall and in science) than in comparison groups. It also found that scholarships were critical in increasing TVET progression and graduation rates. Employment rates were slightly lower than expected but were explained by graduating students choosing to continue their education in other institutions rather than to join the labour market (Campuzano et al., 2016[198]).

Going beyond TVET at the secondary level, El Salvador’s deployment of the MEGATEC model of technical and technological learning responded to the need to meet demand from the local labour market, and to train youths in the skills and competencies required by industry and employers. The MEGATECs act as bridge programmes between TVET and post-secondary or tertiary education. They equip students with higher-level technical skills that are adapted to the local labour market (Box 7.15). Since students are recruited from improved TVET secondary feeder schools, students who enrol in the MEGATECs are better prepared for post-secondary education. The evaluation of the Chalatenango Technical Institute (ITCHA) MEGATEC in the northern zone of El Salvador found that enrolment levels increased, and that scholarships were critical in sustaining that enrolment. Graduation rates surpassed expectations for the intervention, reaching 85% (Campuzano et al., 2016[198]).

To be attractive and effective, TVET systems need to expand the set of skills that they teach. Common critiques of TVET systems in El Salvador and elsewhere are their rigidity in terms of teaching a limited set of skills (not going beyond technical content, literacy and numeracy), and not responding rapidly to changing labour-market needs. TVET also has the potential of safeguarding students from the negative effects of economic crises, which otherwise could force them to drop out of general education for financial reasons. Being in an employment training programme provides links to the labour market, and in some cases income, thereby reducing the negative impact of economic shocks on education. Making TVET provision more flexible has the benefits of attracting different groups of learners, which can respond to changing needs in their communities. TVET systems need to go beyond providing low-skill and low-quality training in industries that are no longer aligned with the local economic market (Marope, Chakroun and Holmes, 2015[199]). The Entra 21 programme that was conducted in El Salvador in the 2000s focused on engaging youths in work, integrating life-skills training, and the development of micro enterprises in the informal sector. It was particularly successful in attracting vulnerable populations, including youths from poorer households, and who were under- or un-employed (IDB, 2009[200]). All economic sectors – whether formal or informal – can benefit from skills development in a co-ordinated TVET system.

El Salvador should broaden its offering of technical education and align it with the identified needs in terms of skills. More technical training institutes that offer curricula that are in demand among private companies need to be set up in El Salvador. Universities need to adapt their educational offer to the needs of the private sector. Dual professional training (combining training with long internships in companies) should also be promoted. Work-based learning can facilitate the transition from school to work (OECD, 2019[182]). INSAFORP needs to be transformed in order to support the development of human capital through key subjects that are most in demand (English, soft skills, specific technical careers) (ESEN, 2019[170]). Furthermore, El Salvador needs to improve the dissemination of information about the offering of technical education in the country, ensure that individuals face the right incentives, and that they have sufficient information to invest in the skills that are in demand on the labour market. In addition, El Salvador should improve the evaluation of technical education programmes (FUSADES, 2018[174]; OECD, 2015[191]; OECD, 2019[182]).

The use of novel forms of training can help to narrow skills gaps in El Salvador in an agile manner. With the development of digital-learning platforms, and their expansion during the COVID-19 pandemic, the development of “alternative credentials” to university programmes in post-secondary education has accelerated (Kato, Galán-Muros and Weko, 2020[201]). These include micro-credentials, digital credentials, and professional certificates. Micro- or nano-credentials are characterised by their narrow curriculum43, and thus their short duration of less than a year. Since they typically offer applied training, nano-credentials can support a rapid upgrading of skills. Still, evidence on their success is still scarce (OECD, 2021[202]), Several countries have increased support for the design and delivery of short training courses, in order to upgrade workforce skills. They have done this both by supporting training institutions (Hungary, Portugal, Costa Rica, Norway and Japan, among others), and by supporting students through scholarships (Australia, Hungary, Denmark or the province of Ontario, in Canada) (OECD, 2021[203]).

Several governmental bodies are promoting nano-credentials in El Salvador, with the aim of closing the skills gap. Five initial nano-credential programmes have been identified for the country, focused on the software sector (online programmes that have been recognised or recommended by Silicon Valley companies such as Microsoft, Google, or Amazon). The nano-credentials aim to promote international employment, freelancing, and entrepreneurship, and to create the basis for a real technology industry in El Salvador. The Ministry of Education is currently working on a draft bill to establish the legal basis, and to recognise nano-credentials. Furthermore, a presidential initiative aims to provide 20 000 scholarships for young Salvadorans so that they can pursue a nano-credential. Plans include joint work with domestic and international employers in order to stimulate interest in people who have graduated with nano-credentials (Gobierno de El Salvador, n.d.[204]).

A reliance on alternative forms of training should be accompanied by the state. Since this is a new development, there are no commonly accepted standards of quality or acceptance of the qualifications awarded by nano-credentials. Some countries have established specific quality standards for micro-credentials. New Zealand, a forerunner in this area, established quality standards through the national qualifications authority. However, there is a need to balance quality assurance and labour-market acceptance with the benefits that the agility and flexibility of these new modes of training can bring (Kato, Galán-Muros and Weko, 2020[201]; OECD, 2021[203]).

The foundations of El Salvador’s national curriculum were established during the Education Reform process that was initiated in the mid-1990s. The reference document setting out the curricular foundations of national education was prepared by the Ministry of Education in 1997 (MINED, 1997[205]). At the end of the 2000s, a reform was carried out that involved the introduction of competency-based learning. This was presented in a policy document on “Curricula at the service of learning” (Curriculo al servicio del aprendizaje) (MINED, 2008[206]). Within this framework, most of the curricula and pedagogical tools for basic and secondary education that are still available at the Ministry of Education were revised (MINED, 2022[207]). Despite including in its motivation links to the development of competencies, the framework for teaching and learning is still governed and organised by subject.

Following this initial impetus, there have been a number of curriculum-reform processes with a narrower scope. They have been carried out through specific, dedicated projects. It was through the ESMATE project to improve learning in mathematics in basic and secondary education, for example, that the set of curricular documents and pedagogical tools for mathematics was updated in 2016. The explicit inclusion of the competency-based approach, including the teaching and subsequent assessment of competency components (knowledge, processes and attitudes), in an important contribution of this initiative. Other efforts have focused on building on earlier reforms, and on implementing new pedagogical models, for example in the framework of the Integrated Full-Time Inclusive School System (USAID/MINED, 2013[208]).

Changes in the global environment call for changes in education systems around the world. A recent OECD report identifies four common axes toward which different education systems have been tending, in recent years, to adapt their curricula to the needs of the 21st century. These are: i) digital curriculum; ii) personalised curriculum; iii) cross-curricular content and competency-based curriculum, and; iv) flexible curriculum (OECD, 2020[209]). Among other objectives, these reforms seek to articulate the introduction of key transformative competencies (creating value, taking responsibility, and reconciling tensions, dilemmas, trade-offs and contradictions), cognitive skills (such as critical thinking and problem solving) and meta-cognitive skills (learning to learn).

A curricular reform would offer an opportunity to implement new pedagogical approaches, while updating students’ profiles in order to adapt them to the needs of the country. Among its education reform strategies, El Salvador’s government has announced a comprehensive curricular reform, and the implementation of a new pedagogical model (MINED, 2022[210]). Still, by mid-2022, the contours and strategies of this reform had not yet been established.

The reform should be designed taking into account the difficulties of implementing past reforms, as well as the lessons from international experience. Among other things, this calls for adequate planning of the reform, including of the resources that are needed to implement, monitor and evaluate it. It also calls for the reform to be designed in a participatory manner, generating a common vision of reform, especially with teachers, and empowering those who will implement the reform at all levels – and especially in the classroom. It also calls for a balancing of curriculum reform with other educational transformations, such as digitalisation, and recognising the need for incremental and stable changes, even as radical transformations are pursued (OECD, 2020[209]).


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← 1. In 2021, the calculation method for net enrolment rates for middle school (upper secondary education) was modified to count only students aged 16 and 17, causing a 4 percentage point increase with respect to 2020, despite a fall in absolute enrolment figures.

← 2. An education system is considered fully efficient when children and youths enter school at the right age, move upwards from one grade to the next grade each year, and complete their schooling.

← 3. The dropout rate to the last grade of primary education is defined as 100% minus the survival rate to the last grade of primary education.

← 4. The Ministry of Education publishes data on intra-annual drop-outs, i.e. the rate of students who drop out during the academic year in which they are enrolled, but not on inter-annual drop-outs, i.e. the rate of students who do not continue studying at the beginning of the following academic year. Hence, the drop-out rates published by the Ministry of Education do not match the drop-out rates by cycle that are derived from survival rates.

← 5. Attendance rates are calculated on the basis of responses to the EHPM household survey, and differ from official enrolment rates.

← 6. Other variables included are the education level of the head of household, urban residence, gender, and income. Several combinations of variables (e.g. income-geography, income-gender) were also examined.

← 7. School attendance for poor rural 15-year-olds is 65%.

← 8. Repetition rates are considered to be strong predictors of dropping out before completing primary education, but repetition rates in El Salvador are relatively low, reaching a cumulative 3.7% and 3.6% in primary and secondary education in 2017, respectively.

← 9. For example, 18% of 14-year-old boys were in primary school (2-years over age), compared to 9.6% of girls of the same age (MINSAL; UNICEF, 2016[55]).

← 10. Data from the Ministry of Education reports 14%, while data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report 16%.

← 11. In addition to pregnancy, the other categories that are included for dropping out are going to another school, leaving the country, parents not wanting them to attend school, crime, death by homicide, being a victim of forced displacement, and being a victim of gangs.

← 12. In Chile, public expenditure on higher education makes up only 41% of total expenditure on higher education, compared to an average of 70% for the OECD (OECD, 2021[47]).

← 13. For example, improved nutrition and vaccination policies led to a reduction in the mortality rate for children under five years old, from 32.8 per thousand live births in 2000, to 13.3 in 2019 (UNDESA, 2020[213]). As this chapter focuses on the education component of Salvadoran ECEC (i.e. pre-primary education), it does not analyse the ECEC needs of for the younger population (0-3 years) in depth. Approximately 2% of children under four years of age attended early learning programmes in El Salvador as of 2019.

← 14. Internationally, early childhood is generally taken to mean 0 to 8 years old.

← 15. Rates of attendance are derived from the annual household survey (the EHPM). Enrolment rates are based on school-census and population data, which are respectively collected and estimated by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Economy’s Directorate General for Statistics and Census (DIGESTYC).

← 16. Differences among groups are statistically significant at the 0.05 level.

← 17. In 2002, the Instituto Salvadoreño de Protección al Menor became the current Salvadoran Institute for Comprehensive Development of Children and Adolescents (the Instituto Salvadoreño para el Desarrollo Integral de la Niñez y la Adolescencia, or ISNA).

← 18. Estimating government investment during the early childhood period in a comparative manner is more complex, as it can include budget lines from other ministries, and it differs across countries. In many countries, estimates are limited to education-budget appropriations for pre-primary education. For a regional analysis on ECD investment including El Salvador and eight other countries, see (UNICEF; UNESCO/IIEP; OEI, 2015[218]).

← 19. In 2013, UNESCO made a recommendation that 10% of public education expenditure should be devoted to pre-primary education, and that 6% of GDP should be directed to public expenditure in education (UNESCO, 2013[214]). The 2015 Incheon Declaration recommends that 15% to 20% of government expenditure be devoted to education, and that 2% of total government expenditure (or 10% to 20% of expenditure in education) be devoted to pre-primary education (UNESCO, 2015[42]).

← 20. The estimates were calculated assuming a significant increase in pre-primary enrolment to reach universal access, as well as higher per-student expenditure to improve quality (e.g. ratio of 20 children for one adult), and to address marginalisation.

← 21. 17% and 34% respectively (UNESCO, 2020[29]).

← 22. The question in the EHPM is answered by the head of household.

← 23. See for example Kirdar, Dayioglu and Koç (2014[215]) and Torun (2018[212]) in Turkey.

← 24. Based on 72 countries with data available between 2013 and 2018.

← 25. Examining the distances, geographic clusters and relative sizes for each school requires data not available for analysis for this report, but distance and transportation costs are barriers and disincentives leading to dropping out of school, especially children from for vulnerable families.

← 26. 2005-2008: Red Solidaria; 2009-Present: Comunidades Solidarias Rurales y Urbanas. Municipalities covered by the programme are being incorporated in the Strategy for Poverty Eradication.

← 27. Since 2019, El Salvador has been a member of the Marco Integral Regional para la Protección y Soluciones initiative (MIRPS), along with six other countries, to protect displaced people in terms of education, health, protection and labour.

← 28. This estimate reflects lost tax income linked to the permanent fall in incomes of recorded pregnancies for women under 20 in a single year (2015).

← 29. Ciudad Mujer centres are currently open in Colón, San Martín, Santa Ana, Usulután, San Miguel and Morazán.

← 30. El Salvador has not participated in many international learning assessments. The assessments that it has participated in are limited to the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) (2007), the regional Segundo Estudio Regional Comparativo y Explicativo (SERCE) (2006), and, most recently, the Estudio Regional Comparativo y Explicativo (ERCE) (2019), for which only aggregate results were available at the time of drafting this report.

← 31. Based on the Early Grade Reading Assessment, which measures early reading skills, including letter recognition, reading comprehension, and fluency.

← 32. The lowest level includes basic knowledge in the subject. In Mathematics, for example, student at this level know how to add and subtract whole numbers and identify basic geometric shapes. In El Salvador, only 50% of students were able to identify two triangles of the same size (Martin, Mullis and Foy, 2008[124]).

← 33. For example, they assess capabilities that are linked to citizen participation, or the skill of generating a dialogue process to resolve conflicts, assessed in an evaluation of language-learning outcomes.

← 34. According to Janet Lorena de Lopez, Director of Basic Education at the Ministry of Education. Multi-grade teaching requires specific skills and methodologies to teach students of different levels, especially in the early grades, in order to impart fundamental skills in mathematics and reading.

← 35. A 2016 report estimates that two-thirds of single-teacher schools only teach in the morning (MINED, 2016[86]).

← 36. Studies from developing countries have shown that teaching materials can help to improve graduation rates and learning outcomes, especially when they are combined with teacher training on the use of new materials (Glewwe and Muralidharan, 2015[211]; McEwan, 2015[147]).

← 37. The estimate is sourced from unpublished UIS data and calculated on basis of households without access to the electricity grid (Montoya and Barbosa, 2020[159]).

← 38. Countries with higher/lower levels of education are those countries in the top/bottom 25% in terms of the level of education as a share of adult population in 1960. The samples include 26 advanced economies and 51 emerging-market and developing economies.

← 39. Interview with private-sector representatives in El Salvador.

← 40. Interview with private-sector representatives in El Salvador.

← 41. See for example the OECD’s Skills for Social Progress; the World Bank’s Stepping up Skills toward Employability and Productivity (STEP) framework and 2013 World Development Report; and the IDB’s Learning Better report (Busso et al., 2017[50]; Denboba et al., 2014[216]; OECD, 2015[64]; World Bank, 2012[217]).

← 42. Teacher training focused on pedagogical principles, both to general academic teachers and to industry specialists.

← 43. There is no generally accepted standard, with nanodegrees that range from 1 to 60 ECTS credits in higher education institutions analysed by the OECD (60 credits correspond to one year of full-time study) (OECD, 2021[202]).

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