Guess What I DIDN”T Learn In School Today … Mom !!!

 (AP)  Advanced Placement Table Cleaning Course
                                                                                                                                                                                                 by H Mac Wooten
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Nelson Mandela

I cant say this type of activity is atypical.  It’s not!  Quite often students are cleaning or helping prepare lunch instead of learning in class.  It’s not like there’s a janitorial staff or a kitchen staff, there isn’t.  Those duties as well as everything else fall squarely on the shoulders of … the teachers job description.  Teaching time often falls between the cracks of all the other duties.  Today when I arrived at the school about 10:30 a, I found the two teachers sitting, chatting while some students were outside playing soccer and others were just wandering around.  It wasn’t recess or study hall time.  I suppose it’s possible their union contract mandates several work breaks during the school day …… which seems to last varying amounts of time depending on the mood and work ethic of the teacher.  The children in the picture above weren’t being disciplined.  I asked.  I first thought this activity may be the equivalent of cleaning the erasers but on second thought, there are no blackboards in any of these  classrooms.  So …….. tonight when you ask your child,  “What did you learn in school today?”  I hope your child has a better answer than the answer these children will have.

“No child left behind” isn’t what comes to mind, this daily scenario depicts generations of children here who have had a poor education here for a multitude of reasons.  One of the largest factors is POVERTY.   Poverty keeps every developing country in the world merely trying to keep their head above water.  Poverty contributes to greed, corruption and the Me  Me  Me  attitude.   For millions of these people, they truly don’t know what tomorrow holds in store for them and their family.  Yes, you may be up to your ass in debt, but honestly, if you lost your job tomorrow, you could still get by for a while.  You family would have food on the table tomorrow.  You could get help from friends, family and maybe eventually, the government.  Here, 80% + of the population are in the same boat.  There is no one to go to for help.  They have no access to help.   This (poverty) factor changes all the rules and I truly don’t expect you to be able to understand ….. their reality.  Did you wake up this morning and bathe with cold water from the spigot outside the house?  Were you feet cold when you got out of bed and stood on the dirt floor.  Did you have to find a place to graze the animals before you went in to the office?  …..  Didn’t think so.  I didn’t either.  This is, however, the reality for millions of people here and in many other developing countries.  Thank God, food is plentiful and relatively inexpensive.  Three kilos of potatoes (about 6 1/2 lbs) costs about $ .50      Hope you’re not on a low carb diet!

Change is slow with abject poverty.   Many teachers here, as well as many government officials DO understand that education holds the key to the future.  Many teachers take their job and responsibility seriously but they do so largely on their on accord.  Seldom is anyone watching or supervising what goes on in the classroom or school.  The government has standards and rules …. but quite often there is no one to enforce those standards or rules.  The district office  (in sp. that’s O.D. officina districtal) is miles away and no one has a car or the interest to oversee what the teachers are doing.  Developing countries have a steep up hill struggle because of the quality of education and their view of the importance of education.  With the world economy in its present state, education takes an even bigger hit on the food chain.  It took me many years of living here to understand that;  Their (Peruvians) reality, reasoning  and rational are completely different from ours.  Think about that statement for a couple of minutes.  Luckily, the teachers we’ve worked with have been incredibly grateful for the help, for any help.  Not one has had the attitude of …. those darn gringos coming in here trying to tell us what to do ……. which is exactly the attitude we have most often when our government (in the U.S.) tries to change something.  Can I get an Amen?

Education in Peru is improving as is their economy.  The new President (Ollanta) says education is among his priorities.  For years, the teachers here have been on strike.  They want more pay.  They are, for the most part, paid low wages.  Yes we can argue that issue in the states as well.  However … Teachers pay in the states has risen significantly over the last 20 years.   Is it where it should be?   Another day … another blog!  The position of the government has been, “We’ll pay you more if you get certified.”  This issue has always been somewhat of a Mexic   ooops  …. Peruvian stand-off.  With the entire country and another generation losing.

Not Home-Ec: These girls are cutting onions instead of learning in the classroom

These boys are helping make Chicha Morada (a drink made with purple corn) for lunch instead of learning in the classroom

Educating often comes after or between other duties in the schools.  The schools have no staff other than the teachers who do the cooking, cleaning and personal business and then ….. the educating!  There is no library and the study books used by the children must be purchased from the school.  These mandatory study books are  usually copied from an original book and sold for $7 – $12.  Students usually have a study book for math and writing.  This expense  ($7-$8) is a full days wages for most of their families.  Sometimes some of the poorest  children will occasionally be allowed to share a book.  Forget about the copyright infringements, do the children take turns writing the answers in the study book?  Education becomes a hardship for the family when buying study books, not once but sometimes twice a year for each child.  Remember the average family size is 5.1  with no indications of that decreasing in the future.  Having a lot of children is something very cultural here.  The appearance of being affluent so to be able to afford many children is very important for the Peruvian male and also many other Latin cultures.  Machismo rules!

You know, sometimes kids get bad grades in school because the class moves too slow for them. Einstein got D’s in school. Well guess what, I get F’s!!!”    Bill Watterson

Here in Peru (a developing country) where we live and focus our attention, Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills to Teachers in some of the poorest areas.   Please visit us at and and at teachateacher on Facebook.

Mac Wooten is President, table washer and onion cutter 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.

One thought on “Guess What I DIDN”T Learn In School Today … Mom !!!

  1. Interesting blog and it looks like your heart is also in the right place with the work you are doing. Do you feel sustainable improvements have been achieved through your work? I have done quite a bit of reflection on the typical approach used to conduct “international development” and have found most intentions good but effects less impressive. It is one thing to be moved by a cause but another thing entirely to understand where to direct that cause. Best of luck.

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