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Evaluation of Guatemala's Education System

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 2541 words Published: 17th Mar 2021

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The national system of education in Guatemala needs an overhaul. Firstly, it needs to guarantee a quality education to all citizens in the form of really, free of cost, public education. Secondly, it needs to be inclusive to all the population, this meaning it must be accessible for students whose first language is not Spanish. However, this overhaul needs an increase in public spending and an overall functioning management of resources, which are beyond the current government’s capabilities. This policy brief seeks to find short term solutions to ameliorate the worsening conditions of the education system while a greater transformation happens. The Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) has been trying to improve the system by increasing its budget. Furthermore, education is the area, after nutrition, to receive the most aid from NGO’s and foreign governments. Although limited, there are resources being funneled into improving the conditions of education. This policy brief aims to encourage MINEDUC and education focused NGOS to work with the teachers and invest in their education as a priority.

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The current system  

The National system of education was established by the Law of National Education and is directed by the National Ministry of Education, MINEDUC. It consists of four schooling levels: initial, pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary education. (UNESCO, 2017). Primary education consists of two cycles, first grade one to three and the second cycle is from grade four to six. Secondary education consists of three years of basic formation and then going into tertiary education which varies in duration depending on the specialization.

Tertiary education is the starting point to the teaching career. At the end of three years, which balance the basic curriculum for the national baccalaureate and the teaching education, the student would be allowed to teach professionally in the pre-primary level. In order to become a teacher for the remaining level the student must go to university for two more years.   

There are different ways to access education. There is public education, private, cooperative and municipal. The majority of children are matriculated in the public system, however it is common knowledge that certain monetary contributions are necessary for the functioning of the school.

The statistics show that there is a decrease of matriculation through the year: 84 % of the kids are matriculated in pre primary, 88% in primary and 43% in secondary basic, 22% secondary diversified. (CIEN ,2017)

Proportion of matriculation according to education level, 2018

Oficial- public

Privado- private

Cooperativa- cooperative

Municipal- municipal

Preprimaria- pre-primary

Primaria- primary


Diversificado- Tertiary

Source: CIEN 2019


The coverage of education is modeled by the Net Rate of Schooling Coverage (TNE). This measures the ratio between the approximated population of a certain age and the actual number of students enrolled in school. CIEN was able to model that between 2008 and 2018 there was a 3.6% increase of TNE in preprimary education. A 4.8% increase in and 6% increase in secondary school. However, it decreased by 17% in primary education.

Net Rate of schooling coverage

Source: CIEN 2019


In order to measure the efficiency of the education system the net amount of grade fails are accounted for.. It measures the number of students that must repeat a grade because they did not attain the necessary grade. The lowest ones are from secondary and tertiary education. However, primary education is showing an increase of repeating student especially in the last year, 2018.

Failing rate 2008-2018

CIEN, 2019


In the area of quality, the Guatemalan education system is in dire conditions. Quality will be understood to be the success of students to learn what they are meant to learn in each level of their education. (CIEN, 2019) In order to measure this, there are certain tests done by the MINEDUC or by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECDE), which sponsors the Program in International Student Assessment (PISA)

The evaluation tests for the primary level were done every year between 2006-2014. The content of the test was math and reading skills of the 3rd and 6th year. The results showed that the primary students attained 50% of what they needed to be familiar with in both mathematics and reading. (MINEDUC, 2014)

Many times, the quality of education depends on whether if its public or private. The private sector usually scores better in these exams. However, the results are still low in both sectors compared to international standards.

Percentage of attainment in reading and mathematics according to sector, 2018

Matematica- mathematics

Lectura- reading

Source: CIEN, 2019

Education budget

Surprisingly, even if the quality of education has been decreasing the budget of the MINEDUC has been increasing in the last ten years.

According to the CIEN the budget has more than doubled since 2008. Going from 5,700 million in 2008 to 13,000 million in 2018. It also increased within the state’s overall budget. Going from being 13.6 percent to 18 percent in 2018.

There has also been an increase in the salaries of the teachers going from being 68% to 79% of the budget of the MINEDUC. The teacher's union has managed to secure a raise in salaries of 10% that starting from 2020


Teachers' performance is the greatest factor to influence students’ attainment. (Hattie, 2003). In the article ‘Teachers make a difference: what is the research evidence?’ John Hattie structures in percentages what influences education the most: 50% is the students themselves, 30% percent is the teachers’ performance and the 20% is attributed to the context and infrastructure. Similarly, other authors attribute the success of countries like Finland and Hong Kong to the quality of the teachers.

(Barber and Mourshed, 2008)

The problem with teachers in Guatemala comes from their own education. Studies show that the education of teachers in Guatemala is mostly reinforcement of content that they must teach to students. Teacher training in the public system lacks a holistic approach to education; they are not being taught techniques to ensure learning beneath repetition and memorization. (CIEN, 2019) Furthermore, they are products from an education system that is flawed and has low attainment.

Successful education systems have done two things two ensure good teachers’ performance: have a specialized mechanism to select teacher and pay good starting salaries. (Barber and Mourshed, 2008)

Countries like Singapore and Finland which have some of the best education systems in the world have complex rules to filter out good teachers. Firstly, making it hard to get a teaching position. However, I have doubts that this rigorous model of teacher selection can be applied to Guatemala.

Teaching in Guatemala

The quality of the teaching is hampered by multiple factors. Firstly, when the teachers were students themselves, they scored low in evaluation exams at the end of their teaching education. Only 2.8% of the education graduates got the passing grade in mathematics and only 28% in reading. (CIEN 2019) Applying teachers also must take a test to measure their performance and the results of 2018 show that they get less than half of the necessary questions right. (CIEN, 2019) Furthermore, the lack of a real selection process allows unqualified teachers to teach.  One of the flaws of the selection process for teachers lays in the lack of a questioning or grinding of applying teachers. MINEDUC cannot even be selective given the lack of applicants to teaching positions in the last years. As a result, the criteria to get a teaching position had to be further loosened and the minimum passing grade of 60 percent in the teaching exam was eliminated.  Therefore, it can be said that there are barely any incentives for the teachers to improve their teaching. The pay for public school teachers is kept low even with the recent increases secured by the education union. The salary starts at $520 (Q4,011) per month and it guarantees to increase to $1,690 (Q9,020) in twenty years. (CIEN, 2019) this can be compared with countries like Chile and Costa Rica which have starting salaries closer to $2000.

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Most of the budget of MINEDUC goes to salaries. However, there are many teachers hired in the public education sector and it is divided amongst many people. The MINEDUC has tried to tackle the low quality of teaching by implementing workshops and classes for the teachers. This has had a low significance in the results of the students whose teachers have attended the workshops. (CIEN, 2019). However, the training is limited and does not get much of the budget.

Another factor that shows the low quality of the teaching is the high rates of children having to repeat the year in year 1 and 2 of primary school. Between the years 2008 to 2018, 1 out of 4 students failed year 1 and had to do it again. Studies show that 36% of students have failed a year at some point of their schooling, which is 12% above the average of countries. (CIEN, 2017) The primary education level gets the greatest part of MINEDUC’s budget: 55%. Also, the primary level has the highest percentage of public-school teachers, with a 68 % of the total public teachers being in the primary level. Primary education is vital as it is the basic foundations for further education as well as teach basic skills like mathematics and reading. The problems concentrated in the primary level will influence the rest of the school levels.

Diversity and education

Guatemala is a country inhabited by more than twenty ethnic linguistic groups. Mayan-descent groups make up 41% of the population and the diversity within this group is substantial: there are twenty-two languages being spoken in this category.  However, education in Guatemala is in Spanish, mostly centralized and follows the same curriculum and pace all over the country. Studies show that second language learners require four to five years learning to read and even then, their comprehension is lower.(Walter, 2019) Therefore, it is hard to understand how the national pace of the school year is kept without leaving some non-native speakers of Spanish behind. This only worsens if we consider that teachers lack a common language with the students that are struggling. Although there are no exact numbers that establish the number of indigenous teachers, it is known that most teaching graduates come from the capital, which is mostly non-indigenous. (CIEN, 2019) The lack of a common language between student and teacher represent a big obstacle to education. Teachers should be indigenous to their ethnic communities, however, given the centralized model of education where most teachers come from the capital this is currently not a reality. Although a plurilingual school system is the necessary solution for this problem, language intensive courses should be given to teachers to at least guarantee a form of communication with struggling children. A teacher that can communicate efficiently with the students is especially necessary in primary education when basic concepts are set out. (Walter, 2019)


In order to guarantee a quality education for the students, the teachers themselves must have one. This policy brief suggests reinforcing the knowledge of teachers through investing in training. The recommendations by Barber and Mourshed of increasing salaries and making the process of selection more rigorous are valid, however, the current economic state and lack of teaching applicants does not allow for it to be applied. The MINEDUC must act with the infrastructure and teachers that it has by ensuring that those who are already public-school teachers have a cemented knowledge of the content they must teach. The greater obstacle for the current system is the lack of a plurilingual approach as indigenous children are rightfully struggling and the teachers cannot communicate with them. In order to solve this, a change in the centralized nature of the system must happen, however the situation can be ameliorated by providing the teachers with language classes. Some, foreign aid already goes into teacher training, however if these agencies organized together with MINEDUC it would reach more people.


  • Barber, M. and Mourshed, M. (2017). How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top. [online] McKinsey and CO. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/44838959_How_the_World's_Best-Performing_School_Systems_Come_Out_on_Top [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].
  • CIEN (2019). El Sistema Educativo en Guatemala. CIEN. [online] Available at: https://cien.org.gt/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Educación-y-Tecnolog%C3%ADa-documento-final.pdf [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].
  • Coffield, F. (2012). Why the McKinsey reports will not improve school systems. Journal of Education Policy, 27(1), pp.131-149.
  • Gorard, S. (2013). What difference do teachers make? A consideration of the wider outcomes of schooling. Irish Educational Studies, 32(1), pp.69-82.
  • Hattie, J. (2003). Teachers Make a Difference, What is the research evidence?. ACEReSearch. [online] Available at: https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=research_conference_2003 [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].
  • MINEDUC (2013). Anuario estadístico de la educación. Guatemala: [online] Available at: http://www.mineduc.gob.gt/estadistica/2013/main.html. [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].
  • UNESCO (2017). Revisión de las políticas públicas del sector de educación en Guatemala. [online] Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000252270 [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].
  • Walter, S. (2019). Mother Tongue-based Education in Developing Countries: Some emerging insights. [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stephen_Walter2/publication/267849180_Mother_Tongue-based_Education_in_Developing_Countries_Some_emerging_insights/links/54d4d9a30cf2970e4e63c163/Mother-Tongue-based-Education-in-Developing-Countries-Some-emerging-insights.pdf [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].


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