Education Equals Empowerment

Private education: Is it just about the money?

By Caitlan and Luke Smith

The GINI coefficient was developed to measure how a country’s income is distributed per family. That is to say, it measures the disparity between rich and poor. Guatemala ranks 11th in the world on this index, near Sierra Leone and Central African Republic.

In spite of this disparity between Guatemalans, even the wealthy may not receive the best education. According to Joe Frankie, a former private school teacher, unless a private school is accredited in the US or Europe, the education offered may be no better than what is offered in a public school.

We met Frankie at our hostel in Guatemala City. He studied English literature and psychology in college in the United States, but he says "the fact that I was American and a native speaker of English got me the job."

With Frankie’s American credentials, he was hired to teach English, science and sex education at one of the most expensive schools in Guatemala for the sixth, eighth, ninth, and tenth grades. One student at the school flew in everyday by helicopter (incidentally, Guatemala has the most helicopters per capita of any nation in the world). Other students were dropped off at the school by body guards.

In spite of the enormous fees paid by the families of these students, Frankie says that the school was more like a babysitting service. Even with small classes of 14 to 16 pupils (a class size almost unheard of in Guatemala), the students were unruly, and, as Frankie states, they had "no sense of responsibility or respect for authority at all. They [did] what they [wanted] to do because they [were] rich."

Frankie points to the lack of discipline on the administration’s part to explain the students’ bad behavior. One student of Frankie’s set a trashcan on fire and, after Frankie sent him to the principal’s office, was back in the classroom five minutes later with no further disciplinary action than a scolding.

Furthermore, the teachers would not give students bad grades because they feared they would lose funding. Therefore, the students did not listen and were not required to listen.

Frankie’s teaching career did not last long. He had problems with administrators who criticized his techniques without ever giving him guidelines. Additionally, he could handle neither the attitudes nor the apathy of the students he was expected to teach.

These students, who should be receiving the best education as the future leaders of Guatemala, are not because teachers are afraid of the repercussions of doing an honest job. As a result, though the students could read and speak English well, "they couldn’t think rationally or critically or compare and contrast."

Frankie acknowledges that this lack of education for the wealthy will only continue the process of marginalization for the Maya.

To explain the current class system in Guatemala, he references the week that he taught a Mayan history section in class. After many students slept through his lecture on the Maya, they went into the school yard to pick up trash, a common chore in Guatemalan schools.

The students, however, refused to pick up the trash. When Frankie asked them why they would not, one student responded, "You know those Mayans you were talking about? They’re the ones who pick up our trash. They’re our maids."

Frankie concludes that rich ladinos actually take pride in being of a higher class than the once great Maya. He believes that if change is ever to occur in Guatemala, the minds of the wealthy and influential must change first. Without this change, he says, "the indigenous will never advance in spite of the education" they may receive.