Report Nº: 76809/08/2018
An explosion originated in a gas leak in a state school of Moreno, a district in the province of Buenos Aires, claimed the lives of two educational workers. The journalistic reports tell that the authority in charge of the establishment (the vice-director, one of the victims) had denounced before the District School Council the anomaly. While waiting for the solution, the tragedy happened.
The Province of Buenos Aires has a budget of U$S 5 billion for initial, primary and secondary education at state schools by 2018. This implies 1.2% of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), that is, an important magnitude at the country level. In terms of the enrollment it must attend –there are 2.5 million children and young who attend state schools in the Province– it is equivalent to about U$S 180 per student per month. It is neither excessive nor a scarce amount, but sufficient to avoid such precarious conditions and the high risk for students and teachers.
What then explains that schools have such severe deficiencies in equipment and infrastructure? To shed light on the question it is advisable to have a look at the structure of the educational budget of Buenos Aires. According to this source, it may be observed that:
These data show that almost all the resources of state schools are used to pay salaries. The counterpart is a minimum portion of public resources to buy teaching materials, school equipment and maintain building conditions at reasonable levels of comfort and safety. But the most negative is that the high spending on salaries is not allocated to reward the effort and commitment of teachers. The consequences are schools without materials and in terrible building conditions with absent or unmotivated teachers. Under these conditions it should not be surprising the decline in the learning results of students, even when educational investment has increased significantly.
The school director is a key actor since he is responsible for the pedagogical results and for the availability of means and safety of the teachers and the students. This collides with the centralization with which the personnel are managed and the acquisition of inputs and repairs are done through centralized entities such as the District School Councils. This is why the school vice-director –victim of the tragedy– had only the alternatives to harm students by suspending classes while waiting for the District Council to repair the malfunction, or take the risk of an explosion.
The misfortune of this school also makes explicit the ineffectiveness of federal programs that aspire to co-manage provincial functions. The National Ministry of Education administers a program financed with the national budget called “Infrastructure and Equipment”. This program has allocated for the education system of the Province of Buenos Aires U$S 24 million. Although the declared objective is to finance small arrangements in the schools, it did not work to avoid the tragedy. The reason is simple: if a district entity –the District Council– cannot manage properly the schools in its area, much less successful will be an official from the Pizzurno Palace (the Federal Minister of Education) in the Capital.
To improve educational outcomes, it is essential to modernize school management. The central pillars are to empower the directors and a wage structure that rewards the commitment of the teacher with the learning of their students. For this, it is essential to decentralize resources and decision-making power in the directors, eliminate bureaucratic burdens, equip them with administrative and maintenance personnel and give them tools so that they can work with motivated teachers. In parallel, it is essential to dismantle centralized structures that do not have the capacity to provide solutions to schools.