Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. Global Studies Program


Patrice M. Franko


Poverty and inequality are significant impediments to a country’s domestic growth and global competitiveness. As developing countries pursue solutions to remedy these problems, many look to education as the solution. A high quality education is essential for individual success and national growth. It can provide greater job opportunities for the individual, which reduces the likelihood of poverty. For the nation, a high quality education can improve human capital, thus increasing a nation’s competitiveness on a global scale. This system is dependent on both demand and supply for educational services. It is not enough for a nation to just have a high school attendance rate, it is also important to ensure that schools are providing their students with an education that gives them a relevant local and international skill set. Having students fill seats in classrooms will not address nor will it remedy issues of poverty and human capital alone. This is only part of the equation. The other part of the equation is making sure that the education that these students receive is of high quality to ensure that these individuals are well prepared to compete in the job market and to substantiate a nation’s work force. While there is no magic bullet to poverty, education can dilute the intensity and prevalence of these issues.

Given the potential for education to reduce inequality and poverty, yielding both individual and national merits, many countries have worked to incentivize educational attainment among those traditionally marginalized. In order to do this, governments need to demonstrate that individuals will not incur a cost (loss of additional income) when they attend school. Conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs are incentivizing programs that have become widespread in Latin American countries. These programs strive to address short-term poverty through cash transfers by mandating school attendance and health service usage; they also seek to alleviate long-term poverty and the accumulation of human capital. CCTs have generally been well received and considered successful in increasing school attendance and health service usage. As Rachel Slater articulates in her 2011 piece, “Cash Transfers, Social Protection and Poverty Reduction,” cash transfers can be effective tools to achieve poverty reduction for “the implication is that policies and programmes that simultaneously address poverty and inequality while enabling poor people to participate in a (just/fair) way in markets, particularly labor markets, are critical.” Argentina’s CCT, Asignación Universal por Hijo (AUH), exemplifies the implementation of a CCT in a country on the brink of economic growth and global relevance. AUH is a relatively skeletal CCT that follows the general outline of these programs. Furthermore, it was implemented in a more developed nation than others that have chosen to use CCTs. These two characteristics make AUH a fair example to examine, both in terms of its role and success within Argentina and as a general example for the structure of CCTs. This case study of AUH uses the Argentine example to examine the unintended consequences and what structural holes exist within CCTs.

Implemented in 2009, AUH provides disadvantaged families with monthly monetary allowances. Initiated in the throes of the global financial crisis, AUH serves as a safety net to address short-term poverty while developing human capital, in the hopes of assuaging generational or cyclical poverty. Between 2009 and 2010, the Argentine school system experienced an increase of approximately 100,000 new students under the age of eighteen. The implication under AUH, as with any CCT, is that there is a value associated with the conditions (in the case of AUH, of regular health check-ups and school attendance) attached to the monetary transfers. Through legal and social programming, the Argentine government has incentivized its population to pursue an education, particularly those who otherwise may have neglected or been unable to do so.

Despite these legal and financial commitments to the education system, Argentina’s educational institutions still appear to lack strength and competitiveness. Although Argentina is attempting to improve its education system, these efforts have not been fruitful. According to the 2012 – 2013 Global Competitiveness Report, Argentina was ranked 106 out of 144 countries with regards to the quality of its primary education, and the quality of its math and science education was ranked 115 out of 144 countries. Based on these ratings, it appears that the Argentine education system could be strengthened to achieve a higher level of global competitiveness. Furthermore, these ratings imply that the educational system might not be prepared for expanded enrollment; social inclusion may strain already limited educational resources. Thus, while the conditions attached to AUH benefit the individual child who pursues an education and regularly uses available health services, the sober data from the Global Competitiveness Report indicates that the Argentine educational system is already of precarious quality. An additional influx of Argentine students via AUH could overwhelm the school system.

Research Questions and Hypothesis

This thesis addresses the relationship between the implementation of CCT programs and local school systems, investigating whether the Argentine CCT, AUH, influences the quality of local education systems. Given the widespread popularity (and claimed success) of CCT programs in Latin America, I want to use the fledgling Argentine example of AUH to research the following: How has AUH affected school populations in Buenos Aires? Has the quality of schools changed since AUH began? In the perceptions of teachers, how has the influx of students due to AUH affected classrooms, especially in low-income neighborhoods? Ultimately, I want to see whether these programs actually benefit the children that they target, or if these children are just filling up seats in a classroom. Beyond that, I want to better understand whether the quality of education has declined since the implementation of AUH, whether teachers feel overwhelmed and students are being lost in the shuffle. In order to fully understand this phenomenon, I relied on interviews to describe and contextualize education on which AUH depends.

Given that AUH was not implemented alongside any direct changes to the educational system, I hypothesize that the influx of students that the Buenos Aires public school system has faced since 2009 will have negatively affected the quality of education provided to students, particularly those in low-income communities. As my research is founded on the quality of education, it is important for me to define what I consider to be the most significant determinants of a quality education. These determinants include: measures of performance (test scores), retention, resources (financial, material), teacher salaries, and teacher qualifications. My research and fieldwork touches on these five factors in varying degrees of detail, depending upon the data available.

While education is a social good that benefits both the individual and society at large, an overwhelmed school system under-resourced to support the AUH-driven influx of new students does not create the intended outcome. My hypothesis probes the unintended negative consequences on the quality of education due to the ill-conceived AUH program. While AUH has noble intentions, a tough-minded analysis of its real consequences is essential in order to assess its real impact. An education can help a country experience economic growth, and Argentina requires an educated population to fuel its economic engine.

I utilize literature review, data analysis, and fieldwork in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to examine whether an association between the rising demand for educational services, as a result of the initiation of AUH, and the declining quality of school services in Buenos Aires, Argentina, coexist. With greater demand at the rate of 100,000 new students, is the supply of educational services sufficiently well-funded to maintain – if not improve – the quality of the education received?

Organization of this Paper

This paper is divided into seven sections that provide the narrative for my research. Following this introduction, I present my methodology, in-the-field practices, and problems and/or conflicts that I faced while conducting my research. I then provide an in-depth articulation of the history of the Argentine education system since the 20th century. This historical section serves to contextualize the development of the education sector in Argentina, providing an overview of the laws that have been passed, briefly illustrating the changes that this system experienced under the dictatorship, articulating decentralization process of the 1990s, and, finally, presenting the current challenges that this sector faces. I then introduce and describe CCTs, providing a historical and informational section on the development of CCT programs, including perspectives from both their advocates and their critics. I then discuss the development of AUH specifically, its implementation, changes, advocates and critiques, and impact thus far. To contextualize AUH, in the fourth chapter I discuss Argentina’s contemporary political climate. After this tour of the Argentine educational system and the role of CCTs, I present my research and findings, including excerpts from interviews and first-hand experiences to better depict the educational experience in Buenos Aires. The internationally recognized Mexican example of Progresa - Oportunidades is incorporated into my thesis in the sixth chapter for constructive comparison purposes. By researching this more established and reputable CCT, I evaluate the literature that surrounds CCTs, specifically with relation to their impact on education. My paper concludes with suggestions for the future development of AUH and articulates the greater significance of this research in the discussion of CCT programs.


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poverty, education, social justice

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