Final Reflections-Peru: Grace Chambers

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.  

Grace Chambers

The topic I am most interested from our learning is the complex notion of equity in schools. After three years of studying education, this is the first time I have discussed how to deliver an equitable education to privileged students. This is a question that is so challenging to answer because, so few schools are able to do it.

Schooling is a political, cultural, and social process — in addition to an intellectual one. We have observed five different schools in our time in Peru, each of which has demonstrated examples of the schooling process as we have come to understand it. Some schools made a more obvious effort to include cultural and community aspects into schooling, as well as cotemporary politics and social relationships.

I first observed this at La Immaculada school in the English class I observed. The students have a language lab that is used to practice English skills, and in this lab student all wear headsets and are randomly partnered with one other classmate. When I was in the lab, students had to make a recording of their conversations about using technology in the event of an environmental disaster. Students watched videos (in English) about how technology can be used to aid people who are affected by national disasters. Students had to discuss the information they learned in the video, as well as brainstorm their own ideas about how technology can be used in a crisis. Students then had to write their English paper about ways to use technology to help people. The assignment asked students to think about global issues, as well as use their knowledge of technology, to generate ideas of how the technology they are familiar with can be used to provide aid or information. Because students are in a privileged school, they will not be as affected by global crisis as people in lower income areas would be. Therefore, the school has decided to educate students about all of the events that happen as a result of a disaster, not just the challenges they will face.

Schools in Lima all incorporated political, cultural, and social aspects into education, but the schools in Cuzco has more obvious examples. At Fé y Alegria 44, students are receiving a bilingual education in Quechua and Spanish. This is important because many students come from high up in the mountains where Quechua is spoken much more. Even though all students attend the same school, the lives of children who live in the mountains vary greatly from the students’ who live in the town. Learning in both Spanish and Quechua gives all students both an advantage, and the ability to connect more with Peruvian culture. Students who are learning Spanish will gain more flexibility to travel outside their communities and interact with a larger amount of the Peruvian population, but they can also keep ties to their homes and culture. Students who are learning Quechua can connect with a larger amount of community members, as they would be able to communicate with people who do not speak Spanish in the greater community. All students will be able to build bridges between native Quechua speakers and native Spanish speakers.

In the Cuzco public schools, I immediately noticed that all of the children were wearing bright, colorful ponchos with their uniforms. This stood out to me because ponchos have ties to traditional Peruvian cultures, so encouraging students to wear ponchos in school both keeps them warm in the chilly winter and connects them to aspects of Peruvian culture. In addition to the ponchos, the director told us about an initiative started by the parents to give extra services to children in the schools. Each parent pays 20 soles per month, and this money goes toward funding programs that the school would not otherwise be able to offer students, like English classes, computer classes, etc. The school did not ask for this from the parents, the parents in the community have all agreed to pay it because they want to give their children as many opportunities as possible. Community and cultural involvement in the Cuzco public school was strong and important to students’ development.

The topic I am most interested from our learning is the complex notion of equity in schools. After three years of studying education, this is the first time I have discussed how to deliver an equitable education to privileged students. This is a question that is so challenging to answer because, so few schools are able to do it. Even at Jesuit institutions we observed we weren’t able to witness true equity in schooling. Even when schools are able to educate students about global issues, it cannot always make them care. One of the readings we had this semester talked about how to make privileged students care. Educators have a responsibility to learn about global issues, teach students about them, and show students how each issue will directly affect their lives. As for schools in working-class or impoverished areas, the most successful schools we have observe have had a strong commitment to involvement from parents and community members. We observed this in the Cuzco region, in both the public school and Fé y Alegria school, where parents were involved in both the construction of schools, and the efforts to provide extra opportunities for their students. These facets of equitable education are important but seem like just the beginning. The schools we observed have been exercising their practice for years. While there has been noticeable change in the school communities, there has been minimal change in Peru as a whole. The unanswered question that I will continue to grapple with is: In terms of striving for an equitable education, are most schools not doing enough, or does each individual school still need to be doing more?

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