El Salvador: Learn about your students cultural backgrounds

El Salvadoran refugee students: Cultural background profiles

Many educators teaching diverse students report that they do not receive enough cultural background information on their students. If you are teaching refugee students, it is important to be aware of newcomers’ backgrounds. The information below is meant to provide an overview of key highlights, so you develop culturally responsive teaching strategies that are in tune with your students’ unique learning styles.

El Salvadroan students - picture of a child
Photo from Latin Post by John Moore/Getty Images

El Salvador Map


Teaching in the Classroom
While education is mandatory until age 13, many families cannot afford to send their children to school. The cheapest schools cost the equivalent of $25 per month, while the most expensive private schools can be as expensive as $250 per month. Poor families often cannot afford to pay for supplies and school fees, and they need children to work to bring in income for the family.

Schools attendance rates are nearly equal amongst genders although boys are usually given priority if families can’t afford to put all children through school. School is held in three cycles: grades 1 to 3, 4 to 6, and grades 7 to 9. Students frequently attend all levels of schooling in the same buildings, many of which are underfunded and in sub-par conditions. Understaffing and lack of materials are common issues, and classes often exceed 50 students. School schedules and curriculum vary widely by community. Foreign languages are usually only taught in private schools only, so it is likely that refugee children will not know English.

El Salvadorian schools are very strict about the student’s appearance. Boys cannot have long hair, girls can’t wear miniskirts, uniforms are usually required, tattoos and piercings are not allowed, and couples cannot be seen kissing or holding hands. Teachers may want to explain American school standards of dress and appearance to incoming students to facilitate their transition.  Because school attendance is so low, teachers should expect challenges with attention spans and unfamiliarity with testing.

Family/School Engagement
Education is highly valued in El Salvador and is a luxury to many, so parents will likely be enthusiastic about participating in their children’s schooling. Gender roles remain rigid in El Salvador, however, and child rearing is seen as a woman’s task. Men may be reluctant to attend parent-teacher meetings or help with homework. Teachers should take the time to reach out to parents individually. It may be a good idea to allot special time for fathers to come visit the school and discuss with them the importance of parent engagement.

It is important to keep in mind that many refugees do not know how to drive or lack access to a car, so transportation to school events will be a challenge even if parents want to be involved.

Although Salvadorans are friendly and hospitable, initial contact with a person is often formal, with friends and family being the only individuals who use first names. Handshakes are appropriate greetings for both genders, and it is customary for the woman to extend her hand first.

El Salvadorans are indirect communicators and they find public conflict to be rude and abrasive. If a child is having issues at school, it is important for the teachers to address the parents in private. Salvadorans may use the words “yes” and “no” in conversation only to indicate their engagement and without divulging their true opinion on the matter. Teachers can iterate the same question in different ways and ask for parents to repeat important information back to them.

El Salvadorans have an event-based idea of time and are used to lengthy meals and gatherings, so teachers should explain the value and standards pertaining to punctuality in the U.S.

Culture, Gender and Family
Although El Salvadoran culture is still male-centric, it is not uncommon for an El Salvadoran woman to be a single parent or single head of household. Domestic and alcohol abuse are common problems. Although most women work outside the home, they also expected to do all of the cooking, housework, and childcare. Almost one third of girls under the age of 16 also work outside of the home. Within appropriate contexts, providing resources for women who need assistance with household issues may be advisable.

El Salvadorans are the sixth largest immigrant group in the U.S. Today, there is a new surge of El Salvadoran women and children fleeing the country due to gang violence. For more information and resources on issues of domestic violence, please see below.

Additional Resources





IRC REFUGEE TEACHER PACKET http://www.rescue.org/sites/default/files/migrated/where/united_states_salt_lake_city_ut/refugee-backgrounders.pdf







Share your ideas

If you have comments or additional information or ideas to share on teaching El Salvadoran students, please email: info@usahello.org.

Take our course for educators

If you would like more training on how to educate refugee and immigrant students, please consider enrolling in our course, Educating Refugee and Immigrant Students.

Print this information as a PDF

You can download and print this El Salvadoran learner profile as a PDF and keep it as a resource in your classroom.

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