By Roger McKenzie
[This article was first published in The Morning Star of the United Kingdom. In this article, Roger McKenzie reports on an interview about Nicaragua’s education policies with Salvador Vanegas, adviser for education to President Daniel Ortega.]
Salvador Vanegas, as the adviser for education to President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega, plays a central role in Nicaragua as education is one of the top priorities of the revolutionary government.
It is unarguable that Nicaragua has made massive strides in education. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Nicaragua is now illiteracy free.
Also, the World Economic Forum 2022 Gender Gap Index ranks Nicaragua as seventh in the world of countries closing the gender gap on education.
Vanegas has been at the heart of this amazing progress. But he is also a true child of the Nicaraguan revolution.
He told me: “I was 14 years old when the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship began and I joined in the fight against the dictatorship.
“I saw injustice. I saw people being exploited and an unjust concentration of wealth in the hands of the few so I got involved in the struggle to overthrow the dictatorship.”
“During the first revolutionary period I was studying sciences, economics and education but I also remained an activist.
“However, during the neoliberal period in the 1990s, after the Sandinistas lost the elections, there was no possibility of social and economic development,” Vanegas said.
“During those years I was a teacher at a university and I stayed involved in the revolutionary struggle to help build a country where there was more justice and where wealth wasn’t concentrated in the hands of the few.
“In what we call the second period of the revolution in 2006 when Ortega was reelected he invited me to be part of his team.
“I first worked on global policy before he asked me to take on the education role,” he said.
Vanegas told me that the aim set out by President Ortega was to bring about an evolutionary transformation of education in the country.
Nicaragua has backed up their commitment with funding. The budget for education has increased year on year as part of the government policy for social investment and education as key to reducing poverty and improving wellbeing, and developing the economy.
Since 2006 the Education budget has been increased by a staggering 457 per cent.
The country has also doubled the number of teachers and maintained continuous training, including school teachers in rural areas, to ensure high quality education.
Nicaragua places girls, boys and whole families at the centre of all the educational policies that are developed.
They promote and support an inclusive multicultural model at all levels of education, from initial or preschool, through technological education until higher education, to build sustainable and resilient communities.
Ortega’s government has particularly concentrated on education in the rural and Indigenous as well as the Afro-descendant communities. It has prioritised the preservation of languages and Indigenous cultures, has expanded the installation of internet and technological support, and provided support for English as a second language.
The education curriculum and teaching in the autonomous Caribbean regions of Nicaragua are also supported by the government.
In Nicaragua education from primary to university education has been free since Ortega was elected in 2006.
Vanegas said: “For us it’s not just about free education. We also integrate social programmes into our education system to help those in most need.
“There are many from very low-income families who can’t even afford to get to school so we step in as a government to provide them with grants.
“At the start of the school year each child gets a backpack with supplies such as pens and pencils and they also get free school meals to ensure they get at least one hot meal in the day.
“The teachers also get backpacks and are provided with textbooks free of charge,” Vanegas added.
To monitor the quality of education being taught, the Nicaraguans have established a Higher Education Institute. There is also a National Commission for Education which has teams that conduct regular reviews of schools and report back on any possible changes that might be needed to education policy.
Unlike in Britain the education system in Nicaragua is not manically results driven. The government believes there is far more to education than that.
“Our concept of education is not just about process and exams. It’s about human development, social justice, values and respect for the environment.”
He added: “It’s about belonging to the country. The whole community is involved in education.”
Vanegas told me that “one of the most important things for us is that children go to school every day. So we involve parents, teachers and the whole community to make sure children attend every day and don’t leave the education system.
“Education is not a commodity for us so that somebody can be sold into the market,” he said.
“The indicators we prioritise are around social justice, respect for women and the environment.
“We also pay a lot of attention to cultural aspects such as the arts.
“We want to educate people to contribute towards the common good so we are transforming education into focusing on making good human beings.
“For us the right to education is the pathway for human development,” he added.
Resources are always a challenge but particularly in a country under such pressure from the US and their allies.
Vanegas said: “Although resources are sometimes a challenge that hasn’t stopped us from continuing the process of transforming education in our country.”
He told me that Nicaragua has moved way beyond the neoliberal days when only a handful of teachers had any formal training.
“Now around 98 per cent of teachers are formally qualified,” Vanegas told me. And the training for teachers is free.
“This year we have also upgraded teacher training to university level.”
But teachers are also given space to meet together every month “to review their pedagogy.” “This gives the teachers the chance to share their own learning with each other.”
I asked Vanegas what the key indicators for success were in the Nicaraguan education system.
“We want to see students leave the education system as better human beings and be able to recognise injustice and to fight against it,” he said.
“We also want to see improvements in the sciences and technology.
“And of course we want people to be able to attract investment into the country but without exploiting anyone.”
He added: “But we also want people to sing and dance. A human being is not just knowledge, it’s about caring for each other, their country and the planet and also about enjoying life.”
By Nan McCurdy
Commemorating Historic Milestone in International Law
On June 27, President Daniel Ortega sent a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, with relation to the ruling handed down by the International Court of Justice (World Court) on June 27, 1986, in which the United States was condemned for its war of aggression against Nicaragua and ordered to compensate the country. The President stated, “At a time when there are discussions in the United Nations and other forums about the much-deserved compensations that should be established to compensate for the damages caused by slavery and climate change, among others, Nicaragua takes this opportunity to recall that there is a historical debt with the Nicaraguan people that 37 years later has not been settled by the United States.”
Ortega went on to say, “It is not an obligation pending to be established or subject to an advisory opinion of a judicial body. It is an obligation clearly established in a final judgment of the highest international judicial authority, the International Court of Justice.” He remembered that, “On June 27, 1986, the International Court of Justice issued a judgment condemning the United States of America to compensate Nicaragua for all damages caused as a consequence of military and paramilitary activities against Nicaragua. Although the Court recognized that, in a situation of armed aggression such as that carried out by the United States, no amount of reparation – neither economic nor moral – could compensate for the devastation of the country, the loss of human lives and the physical and psychological wounds of the Nicaraguan people, the Court decided that the United States had a legal obligation to make economic reparations to Nicaragua for all the damages caused.”
The President continued, “The compensation due to Nicaragua remains unpaid. Nicaragua discontinued the proceeding before the Court for the determination of the amount due, but at no time did it waive payment of the debt, i.e., the right to receive its compensation.” He noted that, “Instead of receiving compensation as is morally and legally due, Nicaragua continues to be the object of a new form of aggression.” He stated that that new form consists of sanctions and an attempted coup d’état and that it is “in this context that the people of Nicaragua recall the historic sentence of the International Court of Justice.” In finishing, Ortega said that, “Nicaragua takes this opportunity to recall that the judgments of the International Court of Justice are final and of obligatory compliance, and therefore the United States has the obligation to comply with the reparations ordered by the ruling of June 27, 1986.”
Dr. Carlos Argüello, Nicaragua’s representative to the World Court at The Hague, stated that “the ruling has had pre-eminent importance in international law. In any university in the world where international law is taught or discussed, this case is cited as one of the main examples with greatest worldwide impact. It is a historic milestone not only from a legal perspective but also for the peace and sovereignty of States.” For his part, Dan Kovalik, lawyer and professor specializing in International Law noted that “The ICJ decision is considered one of the most important in international law because it enunciated customary principles that jurists still apply today: War of aggression is illegal; the right of a nation to self-defense is only triggered by an actual armed attack; there is no right to ideological or humanitarian intervention; and a State cannot legally support armed insurrection against another sovereign State.” Although rulings are binding for United Nations member states, the United States has never complied with the verdict and refuses to pay the billions of dollars in reparations ordered by the Court, estimated at US$17 billion then, equivalent to US$78 billion today. (Informe Pastran, 27 June 2023; Nicaragua News, 27 June 2023)
Nicaragua Leader in Gender Equality Worldwide and First in the Americas
Once again, according to the annual World Economic Forum 2023 Gender Gap Index, Nicaragua has ranked in 7th place worldwide in gender equality, and first in all of the Americas. Nicaragua has the strongest parliamentary representation in the world with 51.65% of seats in its National Assembly being held by women. Nicaragua is also number one in women professional & technical workers, women’s educational attainment, women’s literacy, women’s enrollment in third-level education and women in ministerial position.
Nicaragua, only surpassed by five Western European countries and New Zealand, repeats the same position as last year. In Latin America, after Nicaragua, Costa Rica is 14th, Chile is 27th and Mexico is 33rd. The worst positions in the region, although not all countries are reflected in the indicator, are held by Uruguay (67th), El Salvador (68th), Paraguay (91st) and Guatemala (118th). Latin America, as a whole, ranks as the third region in the world with the greatest equality between men and women, as it is considered to have closed its gender gap to 74.3 %, only behind Europe (76.3%) and North America (75%). (Nicaragua Sandino and EFE, 21 June 2023)
Nicaragua Promotes Responsible Parenthood
“On the Nicaraguan Father’s Day every June 23, it should be recognized that the State has created a set of laws to promote responsible fatherhood,” said National Assembly deputy Carlos Emilio López. He stated that the Family Code establishes that parents must be responsible and assume the upbringing, maintenance and education of their children, while the Constitution states that family relations must be based on shared responsibilities. “In the Code of Childhood and Adolescence, it states that children have the right to a family and that they should not receive abuse, mistreatment, violence or discrimination from their parents. So the laws of Nicaragua summon us to exercise responsible, present and loving parenthood.” He added that “parenthood is for life, and there is no divorce with children; on the contrary, they must strengthen the bonds to form men and women with values and the humanism that society requires. The government is promoting values in schools with the purpose of eradicating violent, aggressive and authoritarian parenting, with which many generations were raised,” said Lopez, member of the Women, Children, and Family Committee of the National Assembly. (Radio La Primerisima, 23 June 2023)
45 Cases of Violence Seen in House-to-House Visits
The officers of the Women’s Police Stations received 45 complaints in the house-to-house visits carried out during the week of June 15 to 21. General Commissioner Johana Plata, head of the police stations, said that ten complaints by women were for criminal offenses and six of the aggressors have already been captured. The Police Chief said that 2,510 talks were given to mothers and their families to prevent violence against women and other family members. (Radio La Primerisima, 22 June 2023)
Influenza Vaccination Campaign Underway
To date 316,335 people have been vaccinated against influenza in the national vaccination campaign that extends from June 19 to 30. The Director of the Expanded Immunization Program, Jazmina Umaña, stated that “600,000 doses of the influenza vaccine will be administered to persons 50 years and older during the campaign, as well as those with chronic diseases, pregnant women and healthcare personnel.” See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/mas-300-mil-personas-han-sido-vacunadas-contra-la-influenza/ (Radio La Primerisima, 26 June 2023)
Ophthalmology Center in Matagalpa and Health Post in Chinandega Ready
The rehabilitation of the Carlos Fonseca Amador Ophthalmology Center, to better serve more than 35,000 patients from Estelí, Jinotega, León, Chinandega, Masaya, Boaco, Matagalpa, and the North and South Caribbean Coast, is ready. The Ministry of Health also said that improvements were finished to the Dr. Agustín Santamaría Romero Health Post in the community of Belén, Department of Chinandega, where 1,187 inhabitants will be attended in good conditions. Dr. Agustín Santamaría collaborated with logistics and served as an FSLN courier between a guerrilla camp and the city. He was murdered on June 1979 by the Somoza’s genocidal National Guard; his remains were never found. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/listo-centro-oftalmologico-en-matagalpa-y-puesto-de-salud-en-chinandega/ (Radio La Primerisima, 22 June 2022)
Ensuring Access to Health Care for Senior Citizens
The Porfirio García Care Center for Seniors in the Hilario Sánchez Vásquez neighborhood of Managua was inaugurated on June 23. Along with the building itself this project includes diagnostic equipment, specialized care, and clinical management for patients with chronic diseases and/or disabilities, and for the early detection and care of cancer, benefiting 55,000 seniors. Attention will be provided in neurology, cardiology, internal medicine, orthopedics, urology, rehabilitation medicine, and dentistry, among others. It has equipment for ultrasounds, electrocardiograms, electromyography, endoscopy, audiometry, laboratory exams, and more. In addition, it will be the Training Center for Health Personnel for the Care of Seniors. Nicaragua invested US$1.53 million in this center. (Nicaragua Sandino, 23 June 2023)
English as a Second Language for All Children
Soon sixth grade children will graduate from primary school with two years of English, a milestone in the history of English teaching in the country, said the Minister of Education Liliam Herrera on June 26. As part of the work to achieve this, the authorities of the Ministry of Education, INATEC and teachers at the National Autonomous University (UNAN) began a workshop called “First Dynamic On” to reinforce the knowledge of the facilitators, who will prepare about 1,800 teachers across the country to teach English in the classroom. It is “a strategy that has been a dream, but today crystallizes, the dream that all our children will speak English as a second language. “We are preparing special workshops with teachers who are going to replicate this strategy to teach English,” commented Jaime López Lowery, technical secretary of the National Council of Universities. (Radio La Primerisima, 26 June 2023)
Higher Economic Growth Reported
The Central Bank published its 2023 First Quarter Gross Domestic Product Report which states that the Gross Domestic Product registered 3.5% growth during the first quarter of the year. The economic sectors with the greatest contribution to GDP growth during this period were hotel and restaurants (27.5%); mining (13.3%); transportation and communication (6.8%); commerce (5.6%); services (5.2%). (Nicaragua News, 22 June 2023)
Sandinistas Commemorate the Repliegue
Beginning in the early morning of June 24, thousands of Sandinistas gathered in San Judas, Managua, to participate in the 44th anniversary commemoration of the Retreat from Managua to the Hacienda El Vapor in Masaya in homage to Sandinista heroes and martyrs. In 1979 the Retreat to El Vapor was a life-saving strategy that consisted of a gathering of the Sandinista forces in the sector of San Judas and surrounding neighborhoods and all-night walk to Masaya. The revolutionaries had run out of ammunition and the Somocista National Guard at that moment was carrying out a “cleanup” operation in Managua neighborhoods. This remembrance of the strategic retreat was dedicated to the heroes and martyrs Bertha Calderón and Oscar Lino Paz. See photos here: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/miles-de-militantes-sandinistas-rememoran-repliegue-al-vapor/ (Radio La Primerisima, 25 June 2023)