In one school, there is only one outhouse for 343 students — and no electricity, so the school must pirate it.
Another school finds itself in a “neutral zone” between warring gangs, whose members play ordinary games of soccer against each other on school grounds.
Yet educators there risk their lives if they try to teach family planning to gang members in a socially conservative country with one of the world’s highest rates of teenage pregnancy and violence against women.
Overall, in 2018, 49,000 El Salvador’s primary-school students dropped out of the public education system.
Abandoned, but not giving up
Conditions like this are symptomatic of the deep problems in El Salvador’s public education system, where schools have been all but abandoned by the central government.
But despite this and against all odds, some schools are flourishing.
A survey of thousands of schools by the news website El Faro revealed not only the depths of neglect and collapse in El Salvador’s public-education system — but also a panorama of ingenuity and persistence.
One, for example, to generate operating funds, has its own student-run coffee farm.
Another school has catapulted its students to the top of national rankings with an innovative program to teach students to write software … even though the school has no access to the Internet.
In each case, teachers, administrators, students, parents and communities rally in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
And aid from third parties is also creating hope — such as a new program financed by La Liga, the Spanish-language men’s professional soccer league, that hopes to strengthen more than 260 new schools with anti-violence and inclusion programs, with soccer at the center.
Civil war and foreign aid
Decades of civil war and gang-driven lawlessness are primary drivers of El Salvador’s collapse, and also a major motive for the unending waves of migrants seeking asylum in the United States.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration suspended $432 million in aid for educational and anti-violence programs in El Salvador and other countries in the region, to force negotiations over an asylum treaty that would keep would-be refugees in the region and out of the United States.
Aid was restored after the treaty was signed.
Yet critics say the deal amounts to the dismantling of political asylum in the United States, and the exposure of vulnerable refugees to more violence.
Worldwide, educational systems are often the first casualties of war and civil strife — yet education leads to dramatic improvements in health and nutrition, particularly for poor communities and children.