Primary education is free and compulsory in State schools and secondary education is free but not compulsory. Since 2002, public schools have been prohibited from charging any fees to parents. Universities and higher technical education centres are financed by the State (6 per cent of the national budget per year). Spending on primary education represents between 1 per cent and 4 per cent of household income.
The Ministry of Education has centralized responsibility for basic education (preschool, primary and secondary): it executes 90 per cent of the education budget, while less than 2 per cent is managed at the departmental and municipal levels. School income is calculated based on the number of pupils, educational level and geographical location (equity index). The index determines per-pupil spending, to which operational expenditure is added to determine the amount allocated to each school. The Ministry of Education’s main expenditure is on public school teachers’ salaries. Each department’s budget is based on the number and characteristics of the teachers, taking into account their level of training and years of experience. For example, Managua is the department with the highest current expenditure (14.9 per cent) and has the most teachers with the highest levels of experience and training.
Fifty-one per cent of public spending on education is distributed to the poorest 40 per cent of students. Primary education students in quintile 1 receive USD 47.4 million (1.6 billion Nicaraguan Cordoba Oro – NIO), i.e. triple the amount received by those in quintile 5: USD 20.2 million (NIO 682 million). While in higher education, students in quintile 5 receive USD 41 million (NIO 1.39 billion), i.e. five times what those in quintile 1 receive: USD 4.3 million (NIO 148 million).
The Government provides subsidies to private schools, which provide education to 7 per cent of all students attending school. The subsidies cover the payment of teachers’ salaries and represent approximately 5 per cent of the total Ministry of Education budget.
In 2016, Nicaragua invested 4.11 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) and 17.9 per cent of its public spending in education. The school-age population is 2.2 million and in 2010, the country invested USD 437 purchasing power parity (PPP) per primary school student and USD 288 PPP per secondary school student.
This is a daily feeding programme for the poorest populations, aimed at students in public schools and secondary school distance learners. The snack provides 30 per cent of students’ daily calorie requirements. In 2019, there were plans to spend USD 24.6 million (NIO 812 million) to benefit 1.2 million students (60 per cent of the school-age population).
This plan aims to ensure that indigenous and Afro-descendant populations are included in educational development. It focuses on the two provinces with the highest incidence of poverty, where these people live (the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region and the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region). The plan had an estimated budget of USD 439.1 million between 2018 and 2020.
There are 25 public special education schools, from preschool through to adult education. In 2011, 0.6 per cent of the Ministry of Education’s budget was allocated to special education, and enrolment in such centres accounted for 0.1 per cent of total enrolment.
This programme provides notebooks, pencils, rulers, erasers, pencil sharpeners, coloured pencils and backpacks to families in rural communities with lower incomes. In 2019, there were plans to distribute 755,200 packages (34 per cent of the school-age population) and the project is estimated to cost USD 8.3 million (NIO 276.6 million) to implement.
Zero Hunger, a similar social programme, started in 2007 and is targeted at women living in rural villages. It is implemented by the Ministry of Family, Community, Cooperative and Associative Economy. The programme includes a USD 2,000 voucher and a food ration for the children of participating women studying in preschool and primary schools. This last component is part of the World Food Programme’s global campaign to provide food to 150,000 Nicaraguan schoolchildren for 150 days. In 2013, the programme benefited 25,000 families.