In a country where 40% of all children never return to school after first grade, a country still recovering after a lengthy civil war, Maria del Carmen Acena de Fuentes, the former Guatemalan Minister of Education, dreamed big. She saw a future in which all children in her country could attend elementary school, then move on to secondary schools, fully prepared for the challenge. Ultimately, she saw Guatemalan children of all backgrounds prepared to choose careers in whatever field interests them. A partnership between The Pacific Institute and the Guatemalan Ministry of Education helped to deliver on that dream, beginning a transformation of that country’s educational system through one of the Institute’s biggest projects ever: the Program for Attitudinal Change in the Guatemalan Education System.

“There is no greater or finer work than teaching. At The Pacific Institute, we have the experience and are privileged to be a part of the transformation of the Guatemalan educational system,” said late co-founder and Chairman of The Pacific Institute, Lou Tice, in 2006. “By adopting this program, Guatemala is saying that its children and their future truly matter.”

The Pacific Institute trained 12,009 first- and second-grade teachers and principals in a one-year period. This followed a competitive World Bank application process where The Pacific Institute was chosen from seven international programs to train the Guatemalan teachers. The Initiative plans to impact 300,000 Guatemalan students through training of the 10,000 teachers. Participation is voluntary. The Institute’s project manager Rosa Singer, who headed the Initiative, said she was deeply moved by the efforts of the teachers, some who taught classes of 80 or more students. Many of the teachers often traveled for a day or more through the rugged countryside to attend the program training. The teachers have endured much to contribute to the society, in some cases having endured considerable violence during the civil war years, including the deaths of family members.

Nearly all of the people The Pacific Institute has helped to train in Guatemala, which includes professionals and members of the government, enthusiastically embrace The Pacific Institute’s education.

“After 35 years of civil war, poverty and other challenges, they have a dream, and like Maria del Carmen, they believe The Pacific Institute can help them reach that dream. They need to feel ownership in order to feel it’s something they can utilize,” Singer said. 

The stakes are high. Repeated studies show that education is a key to escaping poverty and a powerful driver of progress in a country. Studies also show that increased education for girls has strong, positive impacts on the health of infants and children, including on immunization rates, family nutrition, and on how much schooling children are able to obtain. Visionary leaders in Guatemala, like Maria del Carmen, recognized these benefits of investing in and reforming education, and Singer said that The Pacific Institute is proud to be an agent in accelerating that change.

The need couldn’t be greater. Guatemala is a young, growing country, with 42 percent of the population under the age of 14. Women give birth to an average of 4.66 children. Adding to the educational challenge is the fact most Guatemalans live in rural areas – many of the them isolated – although the pace of urbanization is increasing.

Perhaps because of this isolation, teachers are very important figures in Guatemalan life, acting as leaders and community confidants in addition to their stated jobs. Through the training, Singer said she hopes to affect the larger professional and social circles of these influential teachers.

As with all of the Institute’s training programs, the goal is to accelerate personal progress for teachers by changing their habits, attitudes, beliefs and expectations that inhibit and block performance. This, in turn, will allow the teachers to achieve higher levels of growth and success – for themselves and for their students. The program is also based on another of the Institute’s bedrock principles: Programs must be sensitively tailored to a country’s specific culture and circumstances so that it has real relevance for its participants.

Singer contends that the start of the Institute’s training in Guatemala continues to reap dividends. “People tell me they have already begun to transform their lives. The teachers say they are teaching their students to affect positive changes in their lives. They are teaching their students to dream.”