Nicaragua—population 6 million—has over 2 million school-aged children and is largely considered among the poorest countries in Central and Latin America. According to UNICEF, around 500,000 children are not in the formal education system, and half of all adults and children live in poverty. Although in recent years Nicaragua has maintained a stable youth literacy rate of 86.5%, residents of rural areas continue to suffer from a lack of quality education and funding. Primary and secondary education are free and mandatory, but poverty and lack of resources prevent children from attending or completing school. Schools are often under-funded, over-crowded and under-resourced. Attendance in secondary school is only 41% nationwide, and the country faces abysmal rates of primary school completion (56%), with students in rural areas being at risk of dropping-out as early as the fourth grade. In 2009 for example, roughly 65% of students in rural areas successfully finished primary school. Once out of the school system, most students are tasked with working to help support their families, and the country faces a rampant child labor —14.5% for males and females—problem, being one of the last nations in Latin America to allow the practice. Recently, Nicaragua developed a strategic education plan that aims to increase access to early childhood education, champion primary and secondary school enrollment and retention, and further improve youth literacy. Through youth development programs in conjunction with local families and communities as well as state aid and more efficient management, it intends to promote completion of primary and secondary school in the effort to achieve quality universal education.
Puentes de Esperanza, or “Bridges of Hope” began in 2004 as a nonprofit serving the small rural community of Jiquilillo, Nicaragua. The organization aims to alleviate some of the area’s most pressing problems of poverty and poor quality of education. Its main programs include tutoring, English language classes, computer literacy training, primary and secondary school scholarships, and classroom funding.