Hundreds of visitors to Nicaragua study Spanish in the dozens of intensive Spanish schools throughout the country. However, not all schools are the same, nor is each Spanish student seeking the same experience. Here, we offer a few criteria you might want to consider while comparing schools, with an emphasis on quality and on social responsibility.
Does the Spanish school really exist legally?
A real institutional presence for a Nicaragua Spanish school means the school has a RUC (Tax ID) number, and a permit for operation from the corresponding municipality. The RUC number should appear on receipts and each receipt should have a unique number, printed in red. Insist on getting an official receipt.
An indicator that a Spanish school is legitimate is the existence of clear signage. If the school does not have a sign clearly stating its existence facing the street, it likely is avoiding its obligations before the central and/or municipal government.
Another key sign of transparency is a bank account in the name of the school or its parent institution. Ask whether the school can allow bank deposits to an account in the school name, or better yet, pay by credit card or paypal. Unscrupulous schools will not be able to obtain these financial instruments, and prefer to work "under the table" to avoid tributary and legal obligations.
How long has the Spanish school existed?
Few have stood the test of time, others come and go with the wind. Only two schools in Nicaragua exist under continuous management more than ten years. Apoyo Spanish School now has more than twenty-five years of continuous service to the community, professionals and volunteers.
Does the Spanish school have supervisory staff, feedback opportunities, and teaching materials?
The quality of your Spanish program depends on more than just having a teacher. There should be an independent supervisor making sure that your teaching quality is high, and that the teacher is following the appointed program. The supervisor also intercedes when the learning experience is insatisfactory, and changes need to occur. By using a school that invests in supervisory procedures, you insure a better learning experience as well as a better training experience for the teacher. The school should have teaching material and study guides, and a teaching strategy. Ask your school representative about its teaching strategy and about how its teachers were trained.
Exactly where is my money going?
You are paying good money for Spanish instruction, so ensure that you will have the best experience and also support equitable, socially responsible businesses and nonprofits. Some Spanish schools in Nicaragua provide incomes for the American owners to support their jet-setter lifestyles and houses in Maryland and California. Others say they are "cooperatives" but they are not. How to tell? Ask, and demand documentation. A business should tell you who is the owner, and document it. Cooperatives will have certification documents from INFOCOOP, and the workers will be listed as members of the cooperative. Likewise, any nonprofit organization in Nicaragua must be legally registered as either an association or a foundation, and both are strictly controlled entities with documents to prove they are such. Don't be fooled by some used-car salesman fronting as a nonprofit director!
Does the Spanish school obey local labor laws?
Some organizations use "volunteers" who are actually non-Nicaraguans working illegally in Nicaragua. Illegal workers in Nicaragua steal good jobs from Nicaraguans. Do not patronize Spanish schools or any other business that employs people without work permits. If you see a foreigner performing some work at a Spanish school, ask if he/she has a "cedula" which is an identity card required to obtain work.
An important function of any labor arrangement is the payment of social security on the workers of the Spanish school. Nicaragua's social security system includes a vital health insurance policy which is only sustained by these payments. By insisting on studying at a school with its institutional arrangements in order, you promote equitable development in Nicaragua.
FUNDECI is a Nicaraguan registered not-for-profit foundation since 1973, and Apoyo Spanish School is one of its official programs. We take these issues seriously. All of the issues presented here are essential elements of responsible tourism, and we at FUNDECI hope you recognize and value their importance to making Nicaragua a richer and more equitable country. By patronizing socially responsible businesses, you help make Nicaragua a better place for all. By scrutinizing the businesses you patronize, you contribute to making all Nicaragua Spanish schools better for the students and the workers.
What to Bring to Apoyo Spanish School?