Jessica Boccardo

Jessica Boccardo (Supporting Kids in Peru): Jessica is originally from Argentina, where she obtained her BA in economics. In 2004, she came to the US to further her education. She completed a master’s degree in public policy in Georgetown University In 2006, with a concentration on international policy development. During her graduate studies Jessica worked as a research assistant for the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP), a federally funded education voucher program for low-income families. At the time of her fellowship, Jessica was working in the Poverty Reduction Unit (PREM) at the World Bank. Her area of focus was trade diversification and growth, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Parents: the value of voice

30 Jul

“What does a good education mean to you” was one of the questions that we posed to more than 50 of the “SKIP mothers”. It was Saturday morning and they had arrived at SKIP at 8 am to attend the Saturday talks organized by SKIP’s staff. That day they had organized a game where all mothers were divided into groups and a member of each group had to go to the front and make an expression with her face. Her group had to guess what she was trying to express. They were all laughing as one of the mothers was trying her best for her group to guess: her face looked sleepy, bored, frustrated but the right word did not come up.

And then we distributed the questionnaires. They contained, first, a section on defining education, its objectives and what the children’s right to an education meant ; a second section asked for details on what the costs to education were, what money went to the Parents’ Association (APAFA), what happened if they did not pay to them or to the teachers ( yes, teachers also charge almost every week, for copies, school decoration and some other unclear urgent matters) and finally, a section, where we tried to evaluate their experience with SKIP.

The guessing game continued. It had taken a different form though; now the mothers had to deal with a question they seemed they had never been asked and had to guess, perhaps looking at their children’s face while they were playing around them or remembering their own faces when they first understood that their kids could get a better chance.
Many mothers approached us asking for help because they could not read. We had anticipated this problem with Sara, the other Advocacy Project Fellow, but we never expected so many mothers would be in this situation. However, it was because we could read the questions with them that we could get a better glimpse of their feelings. What a written answer never shows: the pauses, the tears, the doubts that come with a question. When we got to the part of what a good education meant to them, as if they were afraid of saying the wrong answer, they spoke lowly, almost to themselves. There were options like “many years of schooling or quality of education” but that did not reflect what they thought. I read the options to them and they kept looking at me for more, waiting for me to come up with the right word. “Being able to be someone else” a mother said. “To have another life”, “not this life” others completed. At that moment, as they started to talk about the problems and dangers of living in El Porvenir, about how they had not been able to study because they had to work since they were kids, I started to sense a feeling they all seem to share: they felt trapped. This reminded me of the “poverty trap” some economists talk about and I thought to myself that no Economic journal could explain better what this meant than these mothers’ experiences.

Education, as the way to escape from this trap. If not them, their children. If they all agreed on this topic why were their voices not stronger in demanding a better education for their children. “We have the right to a free education?” , I heard several mothers asking in disbelief. They did not know or those who knew thought that what they paid to the schools did not contradict their right to a free education. At this moment, the problem of voice, or lack of it, seemed evident to me.Parents are not aware of what they and their children are entitled to. If they knew and acted accordingly, things might be different. In this context, improving education requires the emergence of a new source of pressure that could demand their right to a free education to schools’ authorities and public officials: the voice of the “users”, parents and their children.

In PERU each school has its parents’ association (APAFA) which collect “voluntary” contributions as a way to reconcile fees with the constitutional mandate that basic education is free. Parents meet once a year and choose APAFA’s members and president. Apart from that they have no control on where or how their money should be spent or a way to know if their money has not been misappropriated. What happens if they don’t pay the fee demanded by APAFA? Their children can not take the school’s exams which, in the end, means they get kicked out of school. This does not represent the parents’ voice that is needed as a catalyst for change.

The case of Fe y Alegria (FyA) may give a hint on how parents’ involvement can benefit the schools.FyA is a Catholic organization that manages schools financed by the public sector and aims at children from low-income families They are established in several Latin American countries, including Peru. They have been widely cited as success stories because performance evaluations regularly show results better than those in public schools, even though costs are about the same,

FyA schools involve the community from the beginning. Schools are placed largely where communities demand them and the commitment to involve the community and to respond to communities is the major pillar of the schools’ organization.

It is mainly in public education where the link of accountability is so blurry, that parents’ awareness and pressure can be the most important catalyst of change. Their voice can draw attention to performance and achievement, expectations and failures; in the end, to making sure schools can actually be the way out of such a thing as a poverty trap.

Posted By Jessica Boccardo

Posted Jul 30th, 2007

1 Comment

  • Sean Reidy

    August 13, 2007


    Hi Jessica,

    My name is Sean Reidy. I am currently part of a program called Teach For America and am a math teacher in the Bronx. I am applying for a Fulbright Scholarship to work on the educational system in Peru. I just emailed Sara Zampierin as well. I read about SKIP. It sounds like a great organization. I am looking to work with an NGO to complete my research, but have been unable to contact any yet. I was wondering if there was any information you could give me or anybody you could put me in contact with so I could get involved. I want to thank you for taking the time to read this and look forward to hearing from you soon.


    Sean Reidy

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