Peru’s Education System; Is it in the Ballpark? Is it near a Ballpark? Can we get a hot dog?

                                                                                                                                                                                                  By  H Mac Wooten

The answer to the question above is  ….. a resounding NO!  Do we even have a Ballpark?   Can we get a hot dog .. please? But we’re making a difference where we can with Peru’s Education System!

Perhaps you’ve read about the One Laptop Per Child Program. (*a).  It  is  reported that 8300 schools are involved in Peru.  I could find no figures available to verify where any of these computers were located.  With a plague of corruption that exists here, it is, in my opinion, the possibility of preferential treatment given to the distribution of these laptops. My issue with programs like this is;  There is/was no training given for the use of this technology.  Many of these teachers have no experience with computers and (other than their own email) it was nothing more than a really neat toy.  However, children everywhere have a natural tendency to learn how to use technology.  One issue, regarding some of the “target areas” for distribution of the laptops, is the availability of internet service is extremely poor and often non-existent.  Is there a place for technology … Yes.  Is it now the time for all of Peru…NO.

I’ll tell you a quick story about one of the schools we work with.  One teacher (who has 1st-6th grade) made a math table  (1-100) on a poster and hung it on her wall.  It never occurred to her to have rows of numbers or 10  20  30  40  50 etc in different colors so the kids might see a pattern of the numbers. These simple tricks can make a huge difference in the way children learn.  Do you really think placing a laptop in this situation is going to help raise the level of education?  NOT!  Is it a wonderful gesture from well-meaning people?  Yes, absolutely!  In the states and many other developed countries  yes ….. because most kids have had years of exposure to this technology.  We have a similar approach to problem solving in the states.  We just throw money at problems and sometimes … we possibly throw computers.  Giving away laptops to developing countries isn’t going to level the playing field and advance learning.  The issue becomes the educators approach and their personal understanding to the extent to which it opens the world to a young person who has poor reading skills, nothing to read and poor understanding of how what is learned when reading even has the potential to benefit that young person and open the door to a fruitful future.

 It quickly became apparent to us after giving materials and teaching “aids” to some schools, if there was no training and follow-up, this material was nothing more than … a wonderful gesture from well-meaning people.  Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers help with basic teaching skills and provide professional development to teachers in some of Peru’s most impoverished communities.

In January of 2007 a census evaluation applied to 180,000 Peruvian teachers showed 62% of them did not reach reading comprehension levels compatible with elementary school. 27%  performed at level 0 or less.  92% of the teachers evaluated did not reach an acceptable (6th grade level) performance in Math.   These teachers were reportedly given approximately 200 hours of remedial education in reading comprehension and still about 15% stayed at level 0

Peru by most standards is a poor country. Public schools (many public schools built in the 1950’s) have not received any maintenance for years, some of the largest schools known as emblemáticos”  had not been subject to any maintenance and were literally falling apart. One of them, with a capacity for almost 5,000 students had less than 2,500 because anyone who could run away from public education would do so. Roughly 4000 schools (5% the number of schools but about 30%  of the Public School student population (located mainly in Lima where half of the population lives and in a few of the larger cities (Cusco, Arequipa) had internet connectivity but very few others were connected because of their remote locations.

There are thousands of “one-teacher primary (grades 1-6) schools” where one teacher  teachs first to sixth graders in the same classroom. It is this type of schools that Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers focuses our efforts. In this diverse country the poorest and most remote schools are the most difficult to serve and therefore usually receive little to no supervision and little funding.  The hopelessness plaguing children in extreme poverty areas is seldom confronted.  Access to technology is generally non-existent and at best poorly funded.  Teacher absence is another huge problem.  They don’t have the luxury of calling a sub.  Data from a 2006 nationally representative survey *(b) of public primary schools, based on unannounced visits and direct observation of teachers, reveals that an average of public school teachers in Peru are absent from their posts 11 percent of the time.  The absence rates in Peru’s poorest and remotest communities are much higher at 16-21%.   I personally have observed teachers at a near-by school (drinking beer with their lunch .. off school grounds)  while their children were unsupervised. I have more issue with leaving the children unsupervised than with the beer.  Improving the quality of teachers is the key to better education.  No, not just because they had a beer with lunch, because largely, the whole system has been given so little attention … ever.  The new president, Ollanta has said that education is among his first priorities.  Vamos aver (we’ll see)!

A couple points I’d like to make are;  If you have a hammer ….. everything out there doesn’t necessarily become a nail.   Use that hammer where its most effective and appropriate.  Sometimes a different tool works better when you understand the problem. There is no doubt that some students will come up with interesting and creative ways to use the XOs and learn a lot in the process.  Yet,no doubt the majority of teachers and pupils as well as other stakeholders such as administrators and parents will hardly see any benefit from the initiative.  At this time, I believe remedial education for teachers would have been both time and money better spent.  As often we get confused when we define success and then try to measure it.

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 My disclaimer;     1*Peru is a Developing Country       2*Some of these numbers were  compiled by Oscar Becerra (a man with understanding  and hopefully leading the charge for Peru’s educational issues) Peru’s Chief Technology Officer with the Ministry of Education     3*Census figures here are (in my mind) highly questionable.  Generally, teams go door to door (on a specific day) and collect census information which is tabulated and available, for the most part … the following day.  Keep in mind the population is approaching 30 million, there are numerous languages spoken here and many communities are very isolated.  Darn they do an amazing job!

(a)   (b)[1].pdf

Mac Wooten is President of Teach a Teacher nonprofit.  A native of Greenville S.C. We live and focus most of our  work in the Ancash region of Peru.

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