Access to education is often regarded as a human right, and achieving universal primary education is one of the Millennium Development Goals (Footsteps 63). Education has many benefits:
- Reading and writing skills are important for social development
- Access to new knowledge is important to equip children and their families to adapt to a changing world
- Education enables people to take advantage of new opportunities for personal and community development.
A key issue in many countries is to ensure that girls share equally in these opportunities. For remote and isolated communities, education can be a means of development, empowerment and social and economic inclusion in the wider society.
The Tseltal, Tsotsil and Chol indigenous peoples live in remote areas of Chiapas State, southern Mexico. Economically, socially and culturally, these groups are often marginalised. To provide these remote communities with access to education, the Mexican government uses television to provide secondary schooling. Lessons are broadcast daily by satellite to televisions in the local schools. Each class should also have a teacher to give further explanations and to distribute textbooks, although sometimes the lack of resources prevents this. There are about 16,000 tele-secondary schools in Mexico. This system has great potential to meet the needs of remote and marginal communities in other developing countries.
In 2006, a study was carried out to evaluate the impact of this system. More than 1,500 secondary school students, aged 12–16, in about 80 communities were surveyed. Many parents and community leaders were also interviewed. They reported many benefits from tele-schooling, for the students as well as the wider community:
- As the communities are so remote, the tele-school is the main source of information about new skills and knowledge.
- Students are introduced to information on social problems within society, such as abuse of drugs and alcohol, and family planning
- Many students were very motivated to continue their education
- Parents approved of the useful skills learned, such as bookkeeping, and the attitudes and adaptability of students.
However, such education can also bring some problems:
- Introducing students to new ideas, values and hopes that are unfamiliar to their parents seems to be promoting a gap between the generations.
- Many young people see education as a way out of the community. Their ambitions often lead them to migrate to bigger towns, threatening the long-term sustainability of their communities.
- Students who remain in the rural community may find that despite their education they are given little voice in community matters. Disappointment can lead to deep frustration, which can often cause problems of drugs, alcohol, violence and even suicide.
This study showed that the benefits of secondary tele-education spread beyond the classroom, but it also highlighted lessons to be learned about the content of such schooling and the way it is delivered. These include:
- ensuring that schooling is adapted to the local circumstances
- involving parents and community leaders. They also need to have some understanding of the new knowledge and the world beyond their communities. This way they can better understand the changes and challenges facing their children.
Dr Nigel Poole works with the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London – Wye Campus. Email: email@example.com