Maria del Carmen Arriola
Fellow Since 1998
This profile was prepared when Maria del Carmen Arriola was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
On the basis of eighteen years as both primary educator and teacher-trainer, María del Carmen Arriola became convinced of the importance of mental and physical stimulation for young children long before they reach the age of official school enrollment. In the absence of any support from the state for such initiatives, she launched the first early-childhood development center in her province in 1982, and later developed the first curriculum in Paraguay for the training of preschool teachers. María is now pioneering the introduction of both formal and non formal preschool and childcare programs in Paraguay. She has gained recognition from the Ministry of Education for her certificate course for preschool teachers and has developed a process whereby students enrolled in her course actually set up and run learning centers called Mita Rogas (Guaraní for "children's homes") for children aged three to six in marginal and rural areas of her home province. María has been asked by the Ministry of Education to consolidate her program throughout the province, but she is already designing a strategy for multiplication at the national level, by inserting a preschool option into the official curricula of the teacher-training colleges in each of Paraguay's sixteen provinces. She is also working on a pilot project that trains mothers to set up childcare centers for infants aged seven months to three years, so as to extend the positive benefits of early stimulation even to the youngest of children. The great innovation in her idea involves not only the introduction of early-childhood programs into the formal educational network, but also the creative use of students-in-training to launch preschool centers that carry the message of early stimulation into neighborhoods and settings where official programs are unlikely to reach.