Better school infrastructure can support learning recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Students sit outside of an improved school
School with improved infrastructure. Photo: Ministry of Education of Peru

A six-year-old girl – we’ll call her Camila – lives in the Dominican Republic and, like two out of three Latin American girls and boys under the age of 10, has yet to develop simple reading skills despite attending school last year. Although her teacher tries to engage the students through interesting group activities, Camila cannot concentrate because of the heat and lack of air flow. The windows are sealed to deter against theft and the classroom environment can be suffocating.

The desks are fixed to the floor, which does not allow the children to move them into a circle to encourage collaboration. The reading lesson describes the beautiful native trees, but the height of the windows prevents the children from seeing outside. What´s worse, although Camila does not know it, her classroom could collapse if another earthquake, like the one registered in Puerto Plata in 2003, strikes again. To cap it all, her school will be closed between August and October, depriving her of the opportunity to learn, not because of the pandemic, but because of the usual floods caused by the hurricane season.



Latin America and the Caribbean face a learning crisis, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is there a need for more schools to serve the growing number of students, but there is also a need for better-built schools that promote learning recovery . Amid the increasing incidence of disasters triggered by natural hazards in the region, the evidence shows that school infrastructure can contribute to improving educational outcomes.

Good-quality infrastructure can change the learning environment for many boys and girls like Camila, and contribute to greater inclusion, safety, and effective pedagogical practices. To ensure that infrastructure effectively supports learning, authorities should keep in mind three concepts.

  • To be inclusive: ensuring access to children who are the most vulnerable due to their economic and/or social situation, gender, or disability.
  • To be adequate: ensuring basic conditions of safety are met, such as temperature, air quality, lighting, and hygiene, along with resilience to external shocks like floods and earthquakes.
  • To be effective: facilitating different pedagogical practices to achieve 21st century skills learning objectives, such as collaboration and teamwork, through flexible spaces.

And there are three strategies to progress along this path:

  1. Create policies that position infrastructure as an educational resource to accelerate learning. Learning happens everywhere and in different ways, and schools must be designed to incorporate interdependent physical surroundings such as topography, nature, and climate to ensure optimal learning. School infrastructure should also be able to accommodate a flexible learning system which allows for the integration of in-person or remote ways to study . When students have access to the internet, learning will be more versatile and the teacher may only be a facilitator in virtual schools using adaptive tools.
  2. Gather data to identify where risk is concentrated, and then create investment plans based on the risk analysis that prioritizes protection from climate change and other natural hazards for the most vulnerable. Existing infrastructure data, key socio-educational indicators, social and environmental criteria, and gap estimates help identify where risk is concentrated , the vulnerability of the infrastructure, and the exposure of communities to disaster risks. These analyses enable the development of scalable investment plans with primary focus on the poor, natural hazard exposure, gender, ethnicity, or disability, and help measure benefits. Such plans are also important tools to be employed in consideration of renewable energies to mitigate the effects of climate change. Based on good data and analysis, governments can prepare affordable medium and long-term investment plans to rehabilitate thousands of schools - prioritizing the attention to the most exposed communities.
  3. Collaborate with all key stakeholders to ensure that school buildings are aligned with pedagogy in design, construction, and maintenance. Investments in new and existing school infrastructure must be regulated by architectural standards adapted to the local context and aligned with pedagogical practices . The definition of the regulations must be the result of a collective effort involving educational teams and architects to guarantee that the designs, the curriculum, and the pedagogical practices go hand in hand. A good approach is the use of reference models that can be adapted to each school, with the engagement of teachers and the educational community. Participation is also key to safety: teachers, students and the community know where the dangerous places are located and can be of assistance.

By adopting these ideas, countries can turn school infrastructure into a powerful tool for improving student outcomes, making it possible for all the boys and girls of Latin America like Camila not only to go to school, but to actually learn.



Enrique Alasino

Senior Education Specialist in the Latin America and the Caribbean region at the World Bank based in El Salvador.

Juan Carlos Atoche

Disaster risk management and education infrastructure Consultant

Juan Pablo Fuentealba Álvarez

Architect specialized in Universal Design and Accessibility

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