Attending and completing upper secondary school in Darién, located on the eastern side of Panama, presents several challenges for the youth; these are largely attributed to: (1) lack of access to upper secondary schools, caused by geographic and socioeconomic factors; (2) poor regional education policies; and (3) inadequate infrastructure (e.g. transportation, potable water and electricity) that supports inconsistent school attendance.
The purpose of this dissertation was to learn about an alternative solution to the educational problems in Darién, offered by Colegio Agroforestal de Darién, a boarding school. The research question that guided this study was: in what ways does a school with an agroforestry curriculum contribute to the sustainable development of the youth in Darién? Sustainable development here refers to the prospects for students to improve their socioeconomic conditions as a result of their technical education, while acquiring competencies to support the preservation of their ecosystem (UNESCO, n.d.).
Darién is the most sparsely populated region of the country—3.7 inhabitants per square kilometer—and the region with the highest rate of extreme poverty; Darién accounts for 52.7% of the national poverty rate (Contraloría General, 2008). It is also home to a diverse population; 23% Afro-Latino, 30% Indigenous and 47% Colono-Latino (IADB, 2002).
Using a mixed methods approach informed by rural development and place-based education (Gruenewald, 2003) conceptual frameworks, the study focused on data from the 2007, 2008 and 2009 graduates and from the 2010 current students.
Findings in this study revealed that graduates assessed their training in agroforestry—agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry and land management—as significant in preparing them for employment and motivated many to pursue tertiary education. However, limitations to the continued accomplishments of the school were also found.
This study adds to the body of literature that links the practice of agroforestry systems in developing countries with poverty reduction (Garrity, 2004). Moreover, there is a paucity of empirical qualitative literature that speaks to the contribution of education, particularly in rural places, in the livelihood of youth in Panama.