In response to one of our most well-read (albeit) outdated blog posts, I have taken this opportunity to update with excerpts from a recently well-written report from our University of Texas volunteer duo from the past summer.
Pre-med students, Grace Gannon and Marc St Cyr, spent the summer helping and supporting Teach a Teacher projects and looking for opportunities for further projects in education and social needs in our area, in hopes that the University of Texas will be able to collaborate with Teach a Teacher in the future. Below are some excerpts which should help update some of the readers out there that find our blog in search for data on the present situation:
The beautiful South American country of Peru, has seen economic gains in the past few decades but still lags behind in important measures such as education, health, and the environment. While some may look upon this as a liability, we see it as tremendous opportunity for growth. In June and July of 2015 we lived and worked in Caraz, Peru, a town located in the Ancash region at the base of the Peruvian Andes. Founded in 1856 by Simón Bolívar, Caraz is a popular town for tourists looking to hike the Santa Cruz trail through the Cordillera Blanca mountain range or to spend time in the beautiful Huascaran National Park. While Caraz is only 67 km from the more well-known city of Huaraz, it is a lengthy 470 km from Peru’s capital city of Lima and is very much a rural town that preserves traditional cultures of the Peruvian people (Waterson et al., 2015).
Peru is a country with a fascinating history and rich cultural traditions that persist to this day. In the mid-1500s Francisco Pizzaro arrived at the Inca stronghold of Cajamarca in northern Peru and demanded the natives renounce their religion and gods and pledge their allegiance to the ever-expanding Spanish empire. The Incan king’s refusal of this proposal led to four decades of the steady eradication of the Inca peoples in Peru and the establishment of a dominant Spanish presence in the country (Steinberg-Spitz, 2015). The sharp divide of racial and ethnic discrimination created by this conquest can still be felt today. In Caraz, as in almost every other rural town, Spanish descendants are treated as superior to the Quechua natives. The poverty rate for the Ancash region—the region that includes Caraz and the only area for which data is available—is 42.6%, mostly comprised of rural farmers who cannot speak Spanish and therefore have no chance for upward mobility. Other common forms of employment are in the service industry, such as food and restaurant businesses, hair salons, and taxi services, and small merchants who specialize in commodities such as shoes or clothing. The official unemployment rate for the Ancash region is 3.84%, but frequent protests and strikes serve as proof that there is a higher percentage of underemployed and underpaid workers. Additionally, the region still falls short in access to basic resources; for example, there are only 21 hospitals in the entire Ancash region (roughly 14,000 square miles, slightly larger than the state of Maryland), and the region has 4.31 physicians per 100,000 people. The population lacking at least one basic need, though declining, remains at almost 20%4. ????
However, important health measures recognize the Ancash region as steadily improving; the infant mortality rate has seen a dramatic decrease between 2000-2011 from 50% to 15%, and the average life expectancy for the region is now over 74 years of age. Similarly, the percentage of people with secondary (42%) and tertiary (26%) education has greatly increased over the past decade. Even better are the numbers for primary education; the gross enrollment rate for children ages 3-16 in some form of education is nearing 94%, while the primary school attendance rate is above 99%. Furthermore, the illiteracy rate in the Ancash region is below 10% for the first time in recorded history (Knoema, 2011-2015).
Education and Ecological Assessment
While one may initially judge the people of Caraz for their poor behavioral choices and neglect of the environment, these are ultimately the result of a poor education system. From pre-primary education in the home through secondary education there is a startling lack of emphasis on quality education and the potential economic benefits it can bring a community (McMahon, 1999). The extremely high attendance rates, especially in primary school, leads to the conclusion that the onus to improve the educational system does not fall on the students, but rather is dependent upon the teachers, principals, and government officials involved in education.
Teachers in Peru face a number of challenges and complications unique to developing nations, and these are most easily identifiable in rural areas such as the majority of the Ancash region. For example, Norma is a primary education teacher, exceptionally gifted compared to her peers, that worked in a rural school a few kilometers north of Caraz. Every weekday she had to take a collectivo (shared taxi) to and from her school since her family does not own a car. However, her meager salary, per day, barely covered the amount she had to pay for the commute and she was forced to accept that it was better for her family if she worked closer to home. Not only did she have to give up a job she loved, but this rural school, and more importantly Norma’s former students, lost arguably their best teacher.
The teachers in rural regions of Peru are not held to an acceptable standard of accountability and often do not make choices in the best interest of their students. A teacher may choose one day, for reasons unknown to their school or students, to simply not show up for work. The students who often walk for an hour or more to get to school in the morning are then forced to turn around and return home, there are no substitute teachers for these occasions. Unfortunately, this occurrence is not rare and a teacher may miss a dozen or more days over the course of the academic year. The only common repercussion is that the teacher does not get paid for the day of work they missed, but this is not enough of a deterrent.
Administrators and government officials also contribute to educational misuse of time, insisting on participation in elaborate parades through the city, meaning that children and teachers spend many hours in marching practice. While events such as these are important to the preservation of culture and tradition, they detract from the school day, which is the most critical factor in ensuring that the country evolves and progresses through future generations. Currently, there is not an adequate balance between time honoring the culture and time devoted to instruction.
These issues of education are pervasive throughout the entire country. In 2012, Peru was ranked last in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey of 65 countries and regions in terms of student achievement in reading, math, and science (Chase, 2013). The World Bank Independent Evaluation Group found that the $350 million that has been invested in education in Peru since 1995 has led to many successes, but that “underlying conditions suggest that improving teacher capacity and the governance of primary (and secondary) education are crucial to improving quality and to increasing efficiently the amount of schooling taken by each student” (Dwyer and Wooten). These findings clearly indicate that if there is to be lasting improvement in the quality of education, Peru must address these underlying issues and lack of structural support within the government.
Administrative and Policy Assessment
In contrast to many other regions of Peru, the current administration of Caraz and the surrounding areas are eager to encourage community development projects. During our first week in Caraz we met with the mayor to inform him about Teach a Teacher’s planned summer projects. He was interested in the proposed programs and quickly put us in touch with other community leaders who were also enthusiastic about the possibilities. Influential community leaders such as the director of the hospital and even the mayor were enthusiastic about promoting community development projects.
But while the administration fully supports community development project upfront, they greatly lack follow-through in completing projects. Many times during our stay in Caraz we received confirmation from an administrator that they would help with our efforts, and help never came. In Peru, there is a pervasive cultural norm of wanting to appear important, successful, and working for the good of others without ever taking action. This makes it extremely difficult to rely on officials and many other community members to accomplish goals. Furthermore, because very few people have home computers or easy access to the Internet, it is difficult to disseminate information quickly and accurately to members of the community.
These issues stem from inefficiency and corruption in the highest levels of government. The current president of Peru, Ollanta Humala, can be seen as an unfortunate example of the types of people elected to influential government positions in Peru. As a former Lieutenant General in the Peruvian army, Humala has been charged with orchestrating the escape of a political refugee, inciting an insurrection against the government, and committing human rights crimes against an opposition faction. Despite these numerous charges, Humala was still elected the 49th president of Peru in 2011 which subsequently caused the greatest single day decline in the Peruvian stock market (Hollar, 2015). Unfortunately, the inadequacy of the government is present in all levels from federal to local government establishments. The current head of the Ancash region, a man named Waldo Rios, was elected because he made a false promise to give each family 500 soles per month (roughly $150). Now he shows immense favoritism towards friends and family, using government resources to further his own agenda and leaving his electorate forgotten.
One of the saddest examples of this corruption is evident in the UGEL (Unidades de Gestión Educativa Local, or Local Education Management Unit). While this governing body is supposed to oversee and improve standards of education, it is full of teachers who were fired from their jobs for inappropriate conduct with students, violence, and abysmal teaching skills. The UGEL is known as the most corrupt government body in all of Peru, and has been marked with many shady promotions and even deaths. When we met with the UGEL to gain support for educational workshops, they promised to contact and invite teachers but did not deliver on a single commitment.
With governing bodies such as these, teachers have very little hope for improvement and therefore have no incentive to do their jobs well. This is especially evident in how teachers are compensated; teachers in Peru are only paid for the hours they are physically in the classroom teaching, with no payment for hours spent grading, developing lesson plans, or pursing continued education. Because of this, teachers simply hand their students government-designed workbooks and assign the students lines to copy. Thankfully, there is now talk in the Department of Education of changing the payment structure to full-time or half-time salary, but it will take a lot more than this to change the country’s minimalist mentality towards education.
Inroads are being made with many distances and roads to cross ahead.
Steinberg-Spitz, C. (2015). The Inquisition in the New World. Sefarad. Retrieved July 8, 2015.
Knoema. (2011-2015). Key Indicators for Ancash Region, Peru. World Data Atlas. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
McMahon, W. (1999). Measuring the Returns to Education. In Education and Development: Measuring the Social Benefits (pp. 1-15). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chase, R. Peru ranks last in international survey of student progress. (2013, December 3). Living in Peru – International. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
Hollar, S. Ollanta Humala | biography – president of Peru. (2015). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved September 3, 2015.