18 May 2011

With Love from the Battle of the Blackboard

"The battle to achieve economic development will 'won or lost in the classroom,' declares Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera. To try to secure victory he has begun what he called Chile’s 'most ambitious educational reform since the 1960s.'"

Remember a few weeks ago, when I compared my struggles in teaching to "fighting in the trenches all day?" (If you don't, check your notes from this blog entry http://caminochile.blogspot.com/2011/05/its-enoguh.htmlYou don't have your notes? You don't have your notebook? Where is it? You lost it. OK, take this piece of paper and copy it again. Let's go, Tia Coleen knows you can do it). 

I am not the only one who feels the strain of the struggle for a better educational system in Chile. As it turns out, even the head of state called for changes and improvements to the barely controlled scholastic chaos last December. (Read the full article here: http://www.economist.com/node/17679703) The reforms are a great idea. Implementation is a concern. It took two months for my materials to get here from Santiago, after all. 

The calls for change come on the heels of an educational revolution already trying to jump from infancy to adolesence in a single bound. Since 2000, reforms and initiatives (including Idiomas Abren Puertas-IAP, which is the one in which I am partipating) have made the attempt to shift Chile's educational system drastically toward being able to compete globally.  

Only in 2003 was high school made mandatory for all Chileans, and free of charge until 21 years of age (In perspective-Massachusetts was the first US state to pass compulsory education laws in 1852, and Colorado school districts made it cumpulsory 114 years earlier than Chile in 1889). 

According to the information given at the orientation for IAP in Santiago, seven out of ten university students in Chile are the first in their families to attain tertiary education. In 1990, there were approximately 245,000 university students. In 2008, there were 769,000. This year, they will likely pass a million. That is a 400% increase in twenty years. 

The main problem is that increasing the sheer quantity of Chileans receiving an education is not enough. The quality of the education (particularly in public schools like mine) must increase in step with the growth in numbers, or all that growth in the student population serves no purpose. Already it feels as though school is just a time/space holder in the lives of many of my students...something that they are required to do for reasons that even their parents may not understand. A relatively safe place to keep children during the day, where they can learn a few basics until they begin to work whenever adulthood rears its head. I suspect that in many parts of the US it is this way as well. 

I don't pretend to know how in the hell one can implement true and lasting reform in a scholastic system and increase the quality of the education that students recieve. Likely the answers lie in the galacial changes of a culture over generations, a transition to a society that values education and encourages it. Probably too minute to see in the course of the five months since Piñera's declaration. 

But the numbers and programs are a start. Even massive glaciers have to start with a few determined flakes of snow clinging to a Godforsaken piece of rock. Hopefully my school is one of them.

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