Transforming the Education System of Honduras
Ebal Díaz, Honduras
Antigua Forum 2012
Background and Challenge
Ebal Díaz almost didn’t make it to the Antigua Forum gathering in 2012. As the legislative secretary of the Honduran congress, he was a busy man. He was someone more likely to advise the politicians and make things happen from behind the scenes than be the face of a reform. He spoke English with a strong accent. But Ebal also was a fast learner and a good listener, with a keen understanding of what needed to be done in his country.
At the Antigua Forum, Ebal was introduced to a whole new way of thinking about issues that mattered deeply to him and his country, especially education. Jeff Sandefer brought experience as an entrepreneur who had built private schools and a reformer who had proposed huge changes in education. Jeff had a project to build schools that empower children to take responsibility for their own education. Ebal’s many conversations with Jeff and a few other participants, including Nobel Prize–winning economist Vernon Smith, were transformative.
When Ebal returned from the Antigua Forum, he told friends, “I’ve figured it out. I know what we have to do regarding education reform.” He assembled a team to craft a huge reform package, and brought in experts to help out in specific areas. Ebal’s core take away from the Antigua Forum was that in education, the rights of families come first, and that families should have a wide range of possibilities for educational methods.
The big reform package was passed in 2012 with legislation that establishes a framework for education. The next step was to design regulations allowing for flexibility. In the new law, innovative approaches such as unschooling and homeschooling had gone unnoticed. Ebal quickly put together an international coalition to draft regulations that would allow these practices, which all but one have received legislative approval.
The reform that Ebal led after the Antigua Forum has fundamentally changed education in Honduras. Today, the country’s education department and its tax authorities have tighter controls. Transparency International has a role in oversight. For the first time in more than a decade, public schools operate two hundred days per year, and in 2018 public school teachers will be required to hold a university degree.
Most importantly, this reform lets parents decide how, where, and by whom their children are educated. It has opened the door for experimentation, adaptation, and leveraging technology. The potential is so great that it convinced education pioneer James Tooley to move to the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa in 2016, where he’s starting a network of bilingual (Spanish/English) schools. Each school is designed for five hundred students. The $100 monthly tuition includes textbooks on computer tablets as well as home Internet connection. The first school is open and more are planned