In September 2016, I published an article for this webpage entitled “Nothing is Free: Building 3 000 Kindergartens Isn’t Either” in which I predicted that the ambitious and laudable plan of providing every 3-year old with an education would be impossible to put into action.
In this article, I introduced a simple policy, alongside Agustín Etchebarne, that could ensure every child has access to educational resources without placing excessive demands on the surrounding community by transforming existing child care facilities into kindergartens.
Today, the words of Alejandro Finnochiaro, the new minister for education, resonate strongly with out policy when he says that they are “ are re-converting this objective into a program of classes for two reasons: first, because the original plan considered certain requirements regarding the terrain that were extremely difficult for provincial jurisdictions to comply with. Furthermore, the plan implied a very large current expenditure for some jurisdictions, that is to say, salaries (…) because they would require putting a whole management team, building a teaching tea, etc. That’s why we will re-convert 10 thousand rooms, enlarging kindergartens or existing facilities.”
It is important to remember that, in concurrence with what the minister has now proposed, the cost of this plan ( based on the information found in the bidding documents for the construction of the first 124 establishments) would be 2.5 billion dollars for the construction of 3,000 kindergartens. I had noted this fact in my previous article. It is evident that the current government takes the cost of the program under consideration.
Furthermore, the real problem consists in offering every child an education without a large number of new teachers. This is exceedingly difficult because training teachers requires more time and resources than the construction of new schools, notwithstanding the costs involved in such an endeavor. The solution proposed by the minister could not realistically be carried out, as it does not account for the training of the new teachers needed if you want to create a 1000 new classes by 2019.
Hence, we will postulate that this initiative could be finalized if fewer schools were constructed, so the number of teachers needed would diminish. Beyond reducing costs, this revised proposal could greatly facilitate the implementation of the aforementioned project that could potentially have a large social impact.
As part of the revised plan we propose, the parents of the 600,000 3-year-olds that are not going to school should each be given a card. This card, which would be similar to a credit card, would grant them a certain amount of money that does not exceed the tuition of a public school in their district. Parents will only be able to use the money to pay for the kindergarten they chose for their children – whether public or private. In areas with a low population density state school will most likely be the only alternative, but parents should still have the option to choose in larger cities where alternatives are available.
This scheme we propose could further the objectives proposed by the original project, since implementing it this fashion would require the construction of fewer kindergartens, the building of fewer classrooms in existing kindergartens and the hiring of fewer teachers who specialized in teaching small children.
Nothing is free. The construction and maintenance of 3,000 new kindergartens is certainly not. Reimagining the project suggested by the minister is one small step towards progress, but the larger issue at hand still looms: without qualified teachers, starting school at 3 matters far less.
Therefore, despite the great promise this project holds to equalize educational opportunities, its implementation, as it stands, remains insufficient. It is imperative that existing resources be used efficiently to fulfill this proposal, and our card idea follows this direction of action. Our government should evaluate the revision we have recommended.
* The author, Edgardo Zablotsky, is a member of the Argentine National Academy of Education and Vice Chancellor of the University of CEMA.