Considering “High Quality Education”: Kelsie Lamb

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Kelsie Lamb

“The failure to give all students these new skills leaves today’s youth and our country at an alarming competitive disadvantage. Schools haven’t changed; the world has. And so our schools are failing.”

What one believes makes a school “high quality” depends on what one thinks the goal of education is. For example, in the book The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner says that U.S. schools are failing because they are not teaching students the skills they need to compete in the 21st century. These skills include critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability, and imagination. According to Wagner, “The failure to give all students these new skills leaves today’s youth and our country at an alarming competitive disadvantage. Schools haven’t changed; the world has. And so our schools are failing.” In Wagner’s opinion, high quality schools are those that are preparing students to enter the increasingly competitive, changing workforce. In contrast, Harvey Kantor and Robert Lowe would argue that what constitutes a quality education is not about preparing students to compete in today’s workforce, but about equality and liberation. In their paper “Reflections on History and Quality Education,” Kantor and Lowe argue that examples of quality education in the past are very limited. They give a few examples of schools that did provide their idea of a quality education, such as John Dewey’s Laboratory School, which the authors call an “extraordinary effort in progressive education.” But since their paper takes a historical approach, little is said about what the present and future of quality education should look like. There is not a definitive, undisputed definition of “high quality education,” but after visiting two Peruvian schools over the past two days, I have begun to formulate an idea of what quality education looks like in the context of Peru, and how this compares to what the above works have said regarding quality education.

On Monday, we visited a Peruvian public school called Fe y Alegria. We will spend three days in Fe y Alegria II in the San Martin de Porres district of Lima during our third week of programming, but we had the opportunity to tour the campus and meet with some of our cooperating teachers. This school is part of a network of Fe y Alegria schools throughout South America, which are publicly funded, but run by a private organization. The closest comparable type of school in the United States is a charter school. The working paper titled “Default Privatization of Public Schools” by Maria Balarin explores some of the complicated issues surrounding the rise of the privatization of schools in Peru, including unregulated low-fee schools, and why parents are choosing to send their students to these schools. While Fe y Alegria is not one of these low-fee schools, I imagine that some of the reasons parents want their children to attend these privately-run schools is similar: smaller class sizes, more advanced academics, and English classes. Many parents send their children to low-fee schools because they see these schools as “better,” meaning they provide a higher quality education. Most of the parents said that since private school students are taking more courses at a higher level than their public-school counterparts, private education is better. This shows that within this context, parents believe that challenging academics, especially in math and English classes, is what makes education “high quality.” This is not what Wagner or Kantor and Lowe argue, further showing the ambiguity of the phrase “high quality education.” Based on our tour of Fe y Alegria, the schedules seem to not only emphasize traditional content areas, but also art and physical education classes. Fe y Alegria’s idea of “quality education” is probably different also. As I spend more time in Fe y Alegria, I hope to gain a better understanding of their educational mission and curricular goals and determine how it compares to some of the other ideas of quality education we have explored so far.

On Tuesday, we toured one of the top Peruvian private schools, Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “the American school of Lima,” located in the La Molina district. Most of the students who attend this school are from families that are at the top of the Peruvian socioeconomic hierarchy or are international students. Colegio Roosevelt is one of the nicest school that I have ever been to. The 27-acre campus has a swimming pool, multiple gymnasiums, a beautiful auditorium, an “idea lab” with 3D printers, plenty of study spaces and greenery, and a new elementary facility under construction. I was excited by what I was seeing and hearing while touring Colegio Roosevelt. Students spend extended periods of time working on a single inquiry-based project, attend week-long trips into the country, and participate in both extra-curricular and service learning activities. I think Tony Wagner would be excited by this school too. Colegio Roosevelt is giving students the skills that Wagner says they will need to compete in today’s workforce. Students are encouraged to ask questions, formulate their own opinions, collaborate with each other, and adapt to new situations. Based on what Wagner thinks schools should be doing, this curriculum is high quality. However, this school is not the type of “quality education” that Kantor and Lowe were discussing; only the wealthiest families can afford the entrance fee and tuition, which is comparable to the cost of state universities in the United States. The students who attend this school are already free from the oppression that comes with poverty, so this school’s curriculum is not working towards liberation, as Kantor and Lowe argue education should. And while the students do volunteer in the surrounding communities, Colegio Roosevelt’s goal is focused on its students, and not necessarily on helping poorer children. Even within an incredible school like Colegio Roosevelt, its “quality” can be questioned because of the differing ideas regarding “quality education.”

From our first couple of first-hand experiences with educational contexts in Peru, I have noticed that, just like in the United States, there is variation between what people believe is a “high quality education.” In low-fee schools, a quality education is based on the students’ academics, while at Colegio Roosevelt, their idea of a quality education includes the shaping of students’ character and integrity. As we spend more time in Peru’s schools, I look forward to exploring more ideas regarding “high-quality education” and the goal of education.

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