Friday, August 24, 2012

This is reality but I don´t like it.

** I suspect this blog, long overdue, is not up to any standard of writing. I wrote it as a rant, to clear my own head, and to puzzle over the question of how much inequality we can just live with.**

In my unusually roomy colectivo today, I sat with three teachers from Musho, Piscuy (a small neighborhood 10 minute walk away) and Apa Chico (a village 40 minutes walking from Musho and the same from Mancos). The Apa Chico and Piscuy teachers work in 1-room schools, with 4 grades in the same room. In a small space, eavesdropping is impossible to avoid, and I listened with curiosity to their plans to participate in the upcoming teachers´ strike. The strike, beginning on September 5, is indefinite, and will leave their schools completely closed.
The opportunity to uncover their motives was too much to resist and I joined, eventually coming to expound the radical idea that teachers could be paid by quality of work (such as not closing their school for indefinite amounts of time), test results (controversial, but I´m not sure what else would be a measure) and other measures, instead of a flat salary. Amazingly, the teacher I spoke with bristled at this idea and began a rant about the inability to compare academic achievement in a school in Musho as a school in Lima. Of course, poverty, malnutrition, lack of reading materials, stimulation, study time, parent commitment and a host of other determinants keep Musho children far below the level of their Lima counterparts.  

The teacher went on to describe the difficulty of teaching children in a 1-room school to the level of children with a teacher per-grade level. I agreed, and suggested that the one-room schools be closed, and that those students study in Musho or Mancos. This, perhaps, was too near to suggesting
 she be fired (not the point of course), and she spent the last few minutes in the car being particularly angry at me.
My actual point was this: does a Ministry of Education not have a responsibility to even the playing field as much as possible. Students with 1 teacher for 4 grades will not have as much grade level-specific attention as a student with a teacher specifically for his level. It´s a fact. If a 10 minute walk is the difference between those two options, why would a parent chose the inferior option? Most of the parents that do are un-educated themselves and see no better life for their children. Should the Ministry of Education not close the inferior school and focus on getting children to the better one?

Of course, the Musho school, to my un-trained eye, hardly shows strong outcomes. The teacher argued in the car, and I agree with her, that students from Musho would never match test results of students from Lima. This may be true. However, it reveals a systematic inequality. To enter into higher education of any kind—police academy, technical school, university—applicants must take an exam. The results are rated nationally and only the top scores enter. The inequality is life-long. While a Musho may achieve prosperity and success in business or agriculture—and there are some professionals as well—the general trend is to keep the poor in poverty. 

I choose to believe that the solution lies in early interventions. Parenting classes, preschool and pre-preschool programs and aggressive early childhood health interventions have shown developmental advances worldwide, in low-income populations. Government involvement in parenting smells suspiciously of Big Brother, yet the alternative, leaving the generation to muddle along in poverty, except for a few lucky ones, scares me more.