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Non-governmental organizations and public primary education in Nicaragua

Dissertation
Author: Leila M. Bradaschia
Abstract:
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in significant educational initiatives at a variety of levels around the globe. As is the case in many developing nations, NGOs in Nicaragua are assisting the state with social service provision in vital areas such as education. NGOs in Nicaragua have stepped in to purchase land, pay public school teachers' salaries, build public schools, and provide classroom supplies and teaching materials. This study attempts to construct a general picture of the role NGOs play in education, and to portray the balance of NGO-state relations in Nicaragua. This research was guided by two principal questions: (1) How are NGOs involved in Nicaraguan public primary education and what potential do they have for increasing educational opportunities for Nicaraguan youth? and (2) Since NGOs are not elected by communities and/ or not contracted by the Ministry of Education for their services, and because they are sometimes foreign-initiated and run, how are they perceived and received by Nicaraguan teachers, community members, and Ministry of Education officials? To answer these questions, I conducted interviews with community members, and interviews and observations at departmental and municipal ministries of education, NGOs, schools, and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education headquarters. My fieldwork focused primarily on the departments of León and Matagalpa; though significant data was gathered in Granada, Jinotega, and other departments. Conceptual contributions of this dissertation include a look at the complexity of NGO-state relations, implications of NGO social service delivery, development aid and emergency assistance outcomes, and issues of poverty and access to education. Empirical findings provide a better understanding of the Nicaraguan context and issues in education, the types of activities NGOs engage in to improve access to education, and the views of Nicaraguan educators, community members, and Ministry of Education officials on NGOs working in their country. Non-governmental organizations over the past three decades have been involved in important educational change efforts in Nicaragua. It is my goal to increase scholarly understanding of their work in education so as to contribute to more enlightened policies serving the great majority of Nicaraguan youth.

viii TABLE OF CONTENTS Title i Acceptance ii Copyright iii Dedication iv Acknowledgements v Abstract vi Table of Contents viii Figures x Chapter 1: Introduction Introduction 1 Research Questions 6 Definition of Terms 8 Research Methodology 10 Data Sources 12 Research Timeline 16 Overview of the Dissertation 19 Chapter 2: Review of the Literature Introduction 20 Conclusion 42 Chapter 3: The Setting Introduction 43 The Context for NGO Involvement in Education 54

ix Chapter 4: The NGOs Introduction 67 NGO Profiles 68 Chapter 5: NGO- Ministry of Education Relations Introduction 79 Chapter 6: Conclusions and Recommendations Introduction 92 Summary 93 Additional Findings and Recommendations 94 Ideas for Further Research 99 Conclusion 100 Bibliography 103 Appendix 113

x FIGURES Timeline of Nicaraguan History and Events 45 Map of Nicaragua 50 Appendix 1 NGO Budget Size and Source of Funding 113 Geographic Areas where NGOs work in Education 114 Appendix 2 NGO Activities to Support Education 115 Interview Protocol 116

1 CHAPTER 1

INTRODUCTION

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in significant educational initiatives at a variety of levels around the globe. On an international scale, they are working to implement ‘Education For All,’ 1 and achieve the ‘U.N. Millennium Development Goals;’ 2 at the nation-state level, they are providing resources for public schooling and influencing governments to reform education policies; and at the community level, they are making educational opportunities available for children, youth, and adults. 3 This dissertation study strives to better understand how NGOs are involved in Nicaraguan public primary education. A review of the literature and my experiences have led me to define NGOs as privately organized, non-coercive, not-for-profit organizations that are each defined by a mission, involved in public outreach programs, and unaffiliated with the state except through potential collaboration (adapted from Edwards & Fowler, 2003; Lewis, 2001; Martens, 2002; and Salamon, 1994). NGOs that strive for social or economic change-- an agenda associated with the concept of ‘development’-- are also called non- governmental development organizations (NGDOs) (Lewis, 2001). These are the organizations to which I most frequently refer.

1 “UNESCO leads the global Education for All movement, aiming to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015” (www.unesco.org/education/efa/ ). 2 “The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions” (www.un.org/millenniumgoals/ ). The second Millennium Development Goal is to provide universal primary education. 3 (www.unesco.org ; www.ngo-education.net ; Sutton and Arnove, 2004; collected data, 2006 & 2007).

2 NGOs tend to target those who are ignored and disadvantaged. They sense a responsibility to destitute communities and often deliver education and other services “in situations where government policy and practice has failed, filling the gaps where government has most difficulty in provision” (MacKenzie, 2003, p. 3). NGOs often see the state as incompetent and lacking the capacity to provide sufficient services; while they think of themselves as open, creative, innovative, and efficient. NGOs are well- known actors in both Latin American civil society and in international arenas (Eversole, 2003, p. xxi). Meyer (1999, p. 46) says the following about the enormous diversity of objectives and political viewpoints represented by Latin American NGOs: Some are powerful advocates for the right, the left, the poor or the environment; others are efficiently providing public services; others both advocate and provide public services. Some NGOs are close to grassroots groups, and others are close to powerful elites. Some NGOs are accused of opportunism, illegitimacy and commercialism; others are attributed great indigenous authenticity.

Statement of the Problem and Significance of the Study In countries where national governments are short of resources to ensure universal coverage in health and education, NGOs, by their broadest definition, have always helped to provide these services (Edwards & Hulme, 1996). As is the case in many developing nations, NGOs are assisting the state with social service provision in vital areas such as education. Neo-liberalism, first implemented in Nicaragua under the administration of Violeta Chamorro in 1990, includes privatization of state-owned enterprises, unregulated

3 free markets, and cutting public expenditure for social services. 4 These strategies had direct implications for social service delivery NGOs, because they began to take on functions that were previously carried out by the state (including maintaining primary education). NGOs in Nicaragua have stepped in to purchase land, pay public school teachers’ salaries, build public schools, and provide classroom supplies and teaching materials. Questions arise, however, about accountability and long-term sustainability of NGO projects. Other debates occur about NGOs’ relationship to the state and whether NGOs are “supplementing, undermining, or replacing public services” (Lewis, 2001, p. 70). During two and a half months of pre-dissertation research in the summer of 2006, I traveled to various parts of the Pacific Region and Central Highlands of Nicaragua. 5 I spoke with Departmental Ministries of Education, staff and volunteers at NGOs, school principals, teachers, community members, and policymakers at the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education headquarters to gather information and opinions about the work of NGOs in the field of education. What I found through observation and interviews with several Nicaraguan Ministry of Education staff and officials is that NGOs are “absolutely indispensable to the current and future [states] of education in the country.” 6 This claim, along with the support I gained for my research from NGOs and Ministry of Education

4 “As in most of Latin America, the neoliberal ‘reforms’ enacted in Nicaragua from 1990 onward were actively promoted by the United States and enforced by the multinational lending agencies- the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank” (Walker 2003, p. 100). 5 Where some 85% of the country’s population resides (www.inec.gob.ni). 6 Interview with MINED Delegate on June 1, 2006 and echoed by several other MINED staff/ officials during May, June, & July 2006.

4 personnel, affirmed my interest in examining NGO involvement in Nicaraguan public education in my dissertation study. The literature on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focuses heavily on NGO definitions, roles, and management issues. Not enough research has been conducted in Latin America and especially in Nicaragua to examine the participation of NGOs in public education and the real implications of their activities for the communities they supposedly serve. This study will help to fill that gap. This dissertation examines NGO relationships with the Ministry of Education and the potential NGOs have for increasing educational opportunities for Nicaraguan youth. Through an investigation of the activities of several NGOs working in Nicaraguan schools, I aim to contribute to a deeper understanding of the relationship between NGOs and the state in contemporary Nicaragua, and to thereby help shape the development of policy in this sphere. Comparative education draws upon multiple disciplines and has developed as a field devoted broadly to the study of education in other countries. During the 1980’s, greater attention was given to the study of educational expansion and reform in different countries and to the equality of educational opportunities and outcomes afforded different groups in various parts of the world (Kubow & Fossum 2003). Globalization created renewed interest in and a rethinking of the purposes of schooling, issues of opportunity and access, educational accountability, and teacher professionalism. Over the past 50 years, the field of comparative education has been moving in the direction of an examination of education-related issues-- such as the involvement of non-state actors in education-- as opposed to discovering basic information about educational systems. In the twenty-first century, “NGOs have gained a new prominence as educational service

5 providers around the world” (Sutton & Arnove, 2004, p. viii). This study is now part of the growing body of literature in comparative education and international development that examines NGOs operating in the education sector, NGO-state relations, and community responses to these matters. Outside of studies examining the impact of the Sandinista revolution on education and the decentralization of education in the post-Revolution years (Arnove, 1986, 1994; Fuller & Rivarola, 1998; Gershberg, 1999), very little research has been done in the field of comparative education in Nicaragua. This study is long overdue. Nicaraguan issues in education and the impact of NGOs on communities and schools are missing in the literature. The educators and NGO staff I met during my visits to Nicaragua left a deep impression on me; they are passionate about education and hopeful about the future of their country. Their stories merit attention. The method of inquiry-- on-the-ground interviews with real actors working in education-- is a major strength of this study. By assembling stakeholder voices in one place, I am allowing readers of this paper to gain insight into the outcomes of NGO work in education in Nicaragua that are potentially transferable to other Central American, Latin American, and ‘developing’ countries. This project was shaped by the data collected from participants. It is my hope the words of Nicaraguan school principals, Ministry of Education personnel, community members, and NGO staff members inspire and inform readers of this dissertation. The data analysis is conducted from a constructivist grounded theory perspective. My findings tell a story about people, social processes, and circumstances that reflect not only the realities of the participants of my study, but my perception of their situations

6 (Charmaz, 2000). A constructivist grounded theorist “recognizes that the viewer creates the data and ensuing analysis through interaction with the viewed” (Charmaz, 2000, p. 523). This study is most pertinent to the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education, NGOs and their donors, and for persons wishing to better understand the field of development studies. Scholars will find this study has conceptual and theoretical contributions to the literature as well. Conceptual contributions of this dissertation include a look at the complexity of NGO-Ministry of Education relations, implications of NGO social service delivery, development aid and emergency assistance outcomes, and issues of poverty and access to education. Empirical findings provide a better understanding of the Nicaraguan context and issues in education, the types of activities NGOs engage in to improve access to education, and the views of Nicaraguan educators, community members, and Ministry of Education officials on NGOs working in their country.

Research Questions Having traveled to Nicaragua for the first time in 2003 to volunteer with an NGO and having returned in 2006 to volunteer with another, I became interested in the types of activities and extent to which NGOs are involved in public education, how they are viewed by the community, and what their relationships are with the state. After examining the literatures in comparative education, NGO-state relations, and international development studies that are pertinent to NGO involvement in public education projects, two principal questions emerged that guided my research: (1) How are NGOs involved in Nicaraguan public primary education and what potential do they

7 have for increasing educational opportunities for Nicaraguan youth? and (2) Since NGOs are not elected by communities and/ or not contracted by the Ministry of Education for their services, and because they are sometimes foreign-initiated and run, how are they perceived and received by Nicaraguan teachers, community members, and Ministry of Education officials? To answer these questions, I conducted interviews and observations at Departmental and Municipal Ministries of Education, NGOs, schools, and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education headquarters. My dissertation fieldwork, conducted May- August 2007, focused on the departments of León and Matagalpa. Data gathered in the departments of Granada, Estelí, Masaya, Jinotega, and Managua in 2006 7 and 2007 are also included in this study. Non-governmental organizations over the past three decades have been involved in significant educational change efforts in Nicaragua. It is my goal to increase scholarly understanding of their work in education so as to contribute to more enlightened policies serving the great majority of Nicaraguan youth. Delegates at departmental ministries of education said the following during my research in 2006 and validated my interest in examining NGO involvement public primary education in Nicaragua for my dissertation study: NGOs are an indispensable support for the schools of Nicaragua. They are involved in education in all departments of Nicaragua. NGOs are indispensable and unconditionally needed in Nicaragua for education. 8

NGOs are a big support in our department. We are a coffee dependent department and the national percentage of funding for education is not

7 Pre-dissertation research; conducted May-July 2006. 8 Interview in Granada on 1 June 2006; translated from Spanish. All interviews in this paper are translated from Spanish.

8 enough. NGOs help fight poverty in our department. We need them to complement our work in the department. 9

The support of NGOs is extremely valuable; all of society works together because education is needed in our country. Education is an important indicator of the development of a country. A country will never develop without it. 10

Definition of Terms Five terms are used repeatedly throughout this study that may need some clarification. The first, which I have already defined and will continue to discuss in Chapter 2, is NGO: Non-governmental Organization. 11 The second is MINED: the acronym for the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education (Ministerio de Educación (www.mined.gob.ni )). A department (departamento in Spanish) is a geographic area that has some governance secondary to the governance of the central government of Nicaragua; it is essentially the same as a ‘state’ in the United States. There are 15 departments and 2 autonomous regions in the country of Nicaragua. Geographic divisions within a department created for the purpose of local government are called municipalities (municipios in Spanish); similar to a ‘county’ in the U.S. The appointed official who directs a departmental or municipal Ministry of Education is the delegate (delegado(a) in Spanish). The positions are most often filled with party-affiliated candidates through an application process. In my experience, Ministry of Education

9 Interview in Jinotega on 27 June 2006. 10 Interview in León on 9 June 2006. 11 As previously stated, NGOs are defined as privately organized, non-coercive, not-for-profit organizations that are united by a mission, involved in public outreach programs, and unaffiliated with the state except through potential collaboration (adapted from Edwards & Fowler, 2003; Lewis, 2001; Martens, 2002; and Salamon, 1994).

9 delegates have spent their lives devoted to education-- as teachers, school principals, curriculum consultants, adult educators, and so forth.

Scope and Limitations of the Study The data in this study comes from twenty-two NGOs working in education, 12 12 public, primary schools, 7 principals/ school teachers, 6 departments, 15 Ministry of Education delegates, and several community members who contributed formally and informally as informants. With just four months in the field in 2007, I am pleased with the number and variety of voices included in this study. The informants varied in their individual backgrounds, location in the country, types of work, length of involvement in education projects, perspectives on NGOs, and so forth. As with most qualitative research, I was not attempting a scientifically valid sample, but rather to illuminate and document processes and trends that might otherwise go undetected. As a grounded theorist, I conducted theoretical sampling which relied on comparative methods and “saturation” 13 of data sources (Morse, 1995). To do so, I sought to conduct mini case studies of all NGOs working in accessible municipalities in Matagalpa, León, and Granada, speak with all Ministry of Education officials at all levels of government that would respond to my queries, and absorb all statements from community members who had opinions about NGOs.

12 These NGOs may not be solely focused on the education sector, but have some project(s) related to increasing access or improving education. 13 “Purposive samples are the most commonly used form of non-probabilistic sampling, and their size typically relies on the concept of "saturation," or the point at which no new information or themes are observed in the data” (Guest et al., 2006, 59).

10 This study attempts to construct a general picture of the role NGOs play in education, and to portray the balance of NGO-state relations in Nicaragua. Indisputably, the data are representative of the viewpoints of those I interviewed, and this study is by no means definitive. However, upon hearing the same sentiments expressed repeatedly in different areas of the country, I feel confident in the overall picture this study paints. NGOs have a real presence in Nicaragua. Yet their potential for increasing access to and quality of education is disputed. While some see NGOs as the answer for meeting needs the government is neglecting, others contest them.

Research Methodology The Qualitative Paradigm This qualitative dissertation study is conducted from a constructivist perspective on research. Contructivism “assumes the relativism of multiple social realities, recognizes the mutual creation of knowledge by the viewer and the viewed, and aims toward interpretive understanding of the subjects’ meanings” (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Schwandt, 1994; in Charmaz, 2000, p. 510; in Denzin and Lincoln). No other perspective on research could be closer to the reality I encountered as a researcher in Nicaragua. My participants and I were from very different social realities and our common language of Spanish is a second language to me. The data that emerged came from responses given to me at one moment in time to questions I asked of my participants. The observations I made were also at one specific point in history, and any other day or at any other time they may have been different. Grounded theorists

11 acknowledge that qualitative data can only portray moments in time (Charmaz, 2000, p. 522). Nevertheless, validity was addressed through triangulation of the dense interview and observation data I collected and by looking at common patterns across interview responses. I trust this allowed me to make valid interpretations of the information gathered from my informants.

Qualitative Methods Semi-structured interviews and observations were the best methodologies for this study (Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw, 1995; Maxwell, 2005) because I aimed to capture personal narratives of NGO and Ministry of Education personnel; gather perspectives about the work of NGOs in education in Nicaragua; and assess a range of opinions on the association of NGOs and the Ministry of Education (MINED) to improve public education in the country. Observation allowed me to reflect more deeply on my research questions and (1) see the basic day to day operations of NGOs; (2) better examine NGO activities; and (3) have a glimpse into how NGOs are accepted in the community and by schools. This valuable data could not have been collected by any other means. The appendix contains the interview protocols I used during my fieldwork. Glaser (1998) claims data becomes transparent; that researchers will see basic social processes in the field through our respondents’ telling us what is significant. The data I collected tells a story about people, social processes, and situations (in Charmaz, 2000, p. 522).

12 Data Sources and the Researcher's Role I spoke with municipal and departmental ministries of education, staff and volunteers at NGOs, school principals, teachers, community members, and policymakers at the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education headquarters to gather information and opinions about the work of NGOs in the field of education. As previously mentioned, I volunteered with an NGO as a teacher during a large part of my pre-dissertation research during the summer of 2006. But when I returned in 2007, I was focused completely on my research. I was consistently amazed at the ease of entry I had into different offices of the Ministry of Education, schools, and NGO offices. Perhaps it is just because I asked for interviews with confidence and perseverance. Due to the generous and warm nature of Nicaraguans, I was warmly welcomed and my participants seemed genuinely interested in my project and in answering my questions. The schools I visited appeared to be accustomed to receiving visitors, as the teachers smiled and welcomed me and the students came to embrace me and practice their English.

Reflection on a school visit with an NGO in Matagalpa The young woman in charge of day to day operations at the NGO was eager and happy to show me around. In no time we were out the door of the run-down apartment building where the NGO had its office space and hitting the surrounding hills of Matagalpa. Wearing my “high-performance outdoor sports footwear” and pants I was ready to go. Wearing heels and a skirt, Gabi kept up quite a pace, even though my legs were twice as long. We climbed a hill on the outskirts of town for a good 45 minutes before we arrived at the first school. It was rainy season or winter, as Nicaraguans refer to it, and the dark

13 clouds were starting to roll in for a good, long downpour. This neighborhood and many others like it, is home to people that cannot afford housing in the city, but travel by foot or crowded bus each morning and evening to work for low wages in temporary jobs. There were children everywhere- most in route to school or home. Schools in Nicaragua have morning, afternoon, and evening shifts; with a different set of students at each shift. There are Saturday and Sunday school sessions as well. Children in these neighborhoods often work in their off-hours, in the markets, in small repair shops, in homes, on the streets, at bus stations, etc. Freshly showered and in uniform, I was struck by the pride students and parents take in preparing for school. We weaved through the neighborhood and off the beaten path up the hill to the school. Upon arrival we were greeted, as we almost always were, by students who assumed I was an English-speaker. They rushed to me to say repeatedly, “hello, how are you?” “one, two, three, four,” and “what is your name?” I smiled and replied, as I was attacked by more “hello, how are you?’s.” With a partial roof, half the amount of desks as students, barely functioning chalkboards, a handful of books, and no restrooms, the conditions of the school were surprising to say the least. Equally astonishing, was Juanita, the school principal who floored me with her devotion to education and desire to make her school a place where children would learn and grow, regardless of the conditions they had to do it in.

Schools I visited as many schools as I could during my fieldwork in Nicaragua: public, private, primary, secondary, and preschools. These visits were arranged by various contacts I made in the communities where I spent time; including NGO staff, my host

14 families, MINED staff, friends I made in the community through teaching English, attending community events, and so forth. Though my formal data comes solely from public primary schools; the other institutions I visited provided me with perspective and a deeper appreciation of Nicaraguan education. Included in this study is data from formal interviews and observations at 12 public primary schools in Matagalpa, León, and Granada.

Ministries of Education Often my first point of reference in a new city, I relied on delegates at Ministries of Education to give me some direction on the work of NGOs in their departments or municipalities. This information was catalogued in their heads, not on paper or in a computer database. It was therefore critical that I establish a good relationship with the delegates so I could make repeat visits to seek more information. At all levels of the MINED, I arranged appointments in person rather than by phone or email. Most of the interviews I had with MINED officials occurred on the very day I showed up at their offices. Only when delegates were out at meetings did I have to return to speak with them. Some of the data in this study come from 19 formal interviews with 7 different departmental and 4 municipal MINED delegates, and 5 personnel at the Ministry of Education headquarters in Managua. 14

14 In 2006 and 2007.

15 NGOs Interviews and observations were conducted at twenty-two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in strengthening infrastructure and opportunities for public primary education in the departments of Matagalpa, León, and Granada. These NGOs are primarily headquartered in Matagalpa, León, and Granada, though a few larger NGOs have central offices in Managua. This group of twenty-two NGOs includes grassroots organizations initiated by local community members, NGOs begun by one person or family from the United States or Western Europe, sister-city organizations, and big international NGOs. Project sizes range from one site or school to nearly a hundred sites across the country, with budgets and sources of funding ranging accordingly. The variety of NGO activities that support education will be discussed in depth in the section of Chapter 4. They include, but are not limited to, funding student scholarships; 15

sponsoring teacher training seminars; providing school supplies and resources for infrastructure; and holding workshops, tutoring and extra-curricular activities on school grounds. Appendix 1 lists these NGOs and categorizes them by a.) Size of budget and source(s) of funding; b.) Primary activity(ies) that support public education; and c.) Geographic area(s) where the NGO works in education. Again, initial interviews with NGOs were made in person and I relied on snowball methods and saturation for contacting all NGOs I could find in my selected departments and municipalities.

15 Particularly important before the end of school autonomy, when students had to pay fees for public schooling.

16 Community Members Countless inspiring Nicaraguans made this work possible. I was so fortunate to have enlightening conversations with community members in each area of the country I visited. Their insights and reflections on my research helped shape the direction of my project. This convenience sample of “community members” were people I met on buses, at comedores [cafeterias], in office waiting rooms, at the markets, in taxi cabs, on the street, at schools, and in the homes of friends. Some interviews snowballed into others and some that began as informal conversation turned into formal interviews after informants expressed substantial opinions on the subjects of education, NGO involvement in education, or information that pertained to my understanding of the Nicaraguan context. Formal interviews were conducted with 17 community members in León, Matagalpa, Granada, Managua, and Jinotega. Only a small handful of informants were parents of children attending schools supported by NGOs. Important to note is that the acronym ONG, organización no-gubernamental, or NGO in English, is very much a part of the vocabulary of Nicaraguans I met.

Full document contains 129 pages
Abstract: Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in significant educational initiatives at a variety of levels around the globe. As is the case in many developing nations, NGOs in Nicaragua are assisting the state with social service provision in vital areas such as education. NGOs in Nicaragua have stepped in to purchase land, pay public school teachers' salaries, build public schools, and provide classroom supplies and teaching materials. This study attempts to construct a general picture of the role NGOs play in education, and to portray the balance of NGO-state relations in Nicaragua. This research was guided by two principal questions: (1) How are NGOs involved in Nicaraguan public primary education and what potential do they have for increasing educational opportunities for Nicaraguan youth? and (2) Since NGOs are not elected by communities and/ or not contracted by the Ministry of Education for their services, and because they are sometimes foreign-initiated and run, how are they perceived and received by Nicaraguan teachers, community members, and Ministry of Education officials? To answer these questions, I conducted interviews with community members, and interviews and observations at departmental and municipal ministries of education, NGOs, schools, and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education headquarters. My fieldwork focused primarily on the departments of León and Matagalpa; though significant data was gathered in Granada, Jinotega, and other departments. Conceptual contributions of this dissertation include a look at the complexity of NGO-state relations, implications of NGO social service delivery, development aid and emergency assistance outcomes, and issues of poverty and access to education. Empirical findings provide a better understanding of the Nicaraguan context and issues in education, the types of activities NGOs engage in to improve access to education, and the views of Nicaraguan educators, community members, and Ministry of Education officials on NGOs working in their country. Non-governmental organizations over the past three decades have been involved in important educational change efforts in Nicaragua. It is my goal to increase scholarly understanding of their work in education so as to contribute to more enlightened policies serving the great majority of Nicaraguan youth.