📐 El Salvador aims high but scores low on the right to education

Pablo C. Santos-Pineda uses the Human Rights Measurement Initiative scores to evaluate El Salvador’s performance in fulfilling the right to education. This performance has been poor, and many children would benefit from strategic changes in its policies

El Salvador aims to become the first country in the world to provide its students with 100% classroom digital connectivity. However, it has many barriers to fulfilling its obligations on the right to education. These include low-quality teaching, high crime rates, pervasive gang violence, and few employment opportunities. We use the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) to evaluate El Salvador’s performance and highlight areas it can improve.

Measuring human rights

As Eduardo Burkle writes in his opening blog for this series, reliable and accessible human rights data is vital to track the human rights performance of countries worldwide.

HRMI takes a different approach to other human rights measures, using a country's economic development as a benchmark for its measurements. This initiative asks how effectively, given a specific country's level of income, it is using its resources to uphold and preserve human rights.

A level playing field

Considering a country’s current level of income also allows for comparisons with other countries with similar income. But El Salvador need not look to the United States for education policy recommendations. Implementing American policies would be impossible. Instead, it can turn to Costa Rica, a similar sized country, with similar resources. This approach to comparison, measuring against an income-adjusted benchmark, allows for more appropriate comparison with neighbours who have used similar resources more effectively.

El Salvador does not have to look at the United States for policy recommendations where education is concerned. Instead, it can turn to Costa Rica, a similar sized country, with similar resources

Countries at varying levels of income naturally have different targets and goals. Therefore, different standards should be applied. Accordingly, HRMI uses low- and middle-income assessment standards to evaluate El Salvador’s performance.

Room for improvement in the right to education

HRMI’s Quality of Life score is the average score of five main social and economic rights: education, food, health, housing and work. This measures overall country performance. With a score of 84.2%, El Salvador falls in the ‘fair’ range and can realistically do much more to improve its record in all five rights.

El Salvador performance on quality of life

Out of the five indicators, El Salvador scores the worst on right to education (64.8%). These percentages fall in the ‘very bad’ range. El Salvador has a long way to go compared to other countries with the same income level. The good news is that it has the resource capacity to make huge improvements, even without additional income.

Right to education details

El Salvador right to education performance

Performance by sex

The first of the following three charts suggests that El Salvador does slightly better at meeting its educational obligations to girls (65.6%) than it does for boys (64.1%). The same difference persists in both primary and secondary education. Though the difference in scores is small, boys are at a greater peril of not getting an education. Notably, they are more vulnerable to gang recruitment, a problem that plagues the region.

Right to education, by sex

Right to education overall by gender

Primary education, by sex

Primary education by gender

Secondary education, by sex

Secondary education by gender

Performance over time

It is immediately clear that data for the right to education in general, as well as primary and secondary education specifically, show a downward trend. Primary school enrolment has taken a deeper dive over recent years than secondary school enrolment. Starting in 2013, scores for both primary and secondary education started to decline, and this trend continued as the decade progressed.

Gang violence is behind this downward trend. As young people become more involved with gangs, they are increasingly enticed away from school. More concerningly, the government’s crackdown on gang violence may only end up exacerbating the problem.

The right to education, over time

Right to education overall over time

Primary education, over time

Primary education over time

Secondary education, over time

Secondary education over time

Lagging behind in the Americas

By looking at the right to education throughout the Americas, we see that El Salvador comes out near the bottom of the region. Its neighbours Nicaragua (73.7%) and Costa Rica (87.2%), are doing much better in fulfilling people’s right to education.

It is from Costa Rica that El Salvador can learn how to better use its resources. Both countries have similar geographies and income levels. In fact, Costa Rica outperforms its neighbours in Central America in scores regarding the right to education. This is not a surprise; the country has had free public education since 1869 and enjoys a high literacy rate.

El Salvador regional comparison

Many children stand to benefit

How many children could benefit if El Salvador were to fully commit its available resources to the right to education? And if El Salvador used its income as efficiently as the best performing country in its income bracket? We calculate that around 132,350 more children would have access to primary education. Meanwhile, a little over 237,200 more children would receive secondary school education.

If El Salvador fully committed its available resources, around 132,350 more children could have access to primary education, and a little over 237,200 more children could receive secondary school education

Currently, El Salvador scores in the ‘very bad’ range for both primary and secondary education. This should not be an insurmountable barrier to the country’s goal of 100% digital connectivity. However, it will require a dramatic change in how effectively El Salvador uses its resources to improve education outcomes.

Data such as these HRMI scores is invaluable in the hands of human rights practitioners, educators, policymakers – or any civil society stakeholders. We can use it to hold the Salvadoran government accountable, and to shed light on where it can make improvements that would make a tangible difference to human lives.

📐 No.2 in our Measuring Human Rights series, discussing the challenges and limits of methodologies for gathering human rights data

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Pablo C. Santos-Pineda
Pablo C. Santos-Pineda
Researcher, Human Rights Measurement Initiative

Pablo holds an MA in International Affairs from the Julien J. Studley Graduate Programs in International Affairs at The New School, New York.

His research interests include post-development discourses relating to indigenous approaches to economics and politics, and examining regulatory frameworks governing agricultural development in the Global South.

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2 comments on “📐 El Salvador aims high but scores low on the right to education”

  1. Mr.Santos-Pineda
    I am a Ph.D. candidate at Northern Arizona Univefrsity and have spent the majority of my career as an educator working in rural communities in El Salvador. I almost spit out my coffee when I read the Salvadoran government was an "aim of 100% digital connectivity in schools. I have worked in more than a dozen public schools in El Salvador over the last 15 years and I have NEVER worked in a school where there is access to the internet and only twice have I worked in a school with running water! I appreciate you calling out the near-laughable deficiency between what is portrayed and reported and what the facts are on the ground. My dissertation explores the recent fracture between the youth majority and the wartime generation and the impact on education. I would love to see anything else you have written on the topic.

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