By Caitlan and Luke Smith
Upon arriving in Guatemala, I desperately wanted to see for myself what a public school in Guatemala City, the largest and most heavily populated city, looked like. I repeatedly attempted contact but no one ever responded, which makes it slightly difficult to discuss the role of a public school in an urban setting. Thus, I resorted to contacting an NGO and asking local Guatemalans to explain public school in the city. Esperanza Juvenil, or Boys Hope Girls Hope, tries to combat what kids in the city experience as education. According to Lucas Pinzon and Kristen Otsby, staff members of BHGH, public schools in Guatemala hardly resemble what I would call education. All students in Guatemala attend school for just half a day, either from 7 a.m. to noon or from 1 to 6 p.m. Teachers do not have their own classrooms as they often do in the States; they rotate twice a day since classes are only half a day. Upon hearing this, I couldn’t help but remember all my classrooms and their specific decorations, even up to high school, and how much simple decorations can be a part of a routine of learning.
Pinzon and Otsby also discussed the outrageous class sizes; as the largest city in Guatemala, most classes in Guatemala City had anywhere from 50 to 70 children.
How would a teacher manage a class this size? It seems unfathomable.
Another startling figure is the lack of education a teacher must acquire.
The government will allow anyone with a high school diploma to teach in the public system, quite contrary to many other nation states.
Besides the giant class sizes, the quality of teachers and short class days, what does the actual curriculum include?
Pinzon and Otsby said that there is a statewide curriculum that all teachers must use, yet few officials from the Ministry of Education actually monitor the implementation of said curriculum.
When following the curriculum, Pinzon said that teachers use the old method of rote teaching.Rote teaching consists of the teacher writing information on the board and students copying it verbatim. Teachers do not encourage discussions or problem solving, only memorization.
When not using the rote teaching method, it is common for teachers to require students to make craft projects to sell in order to supplement teachers’ salaries and school expenses.
According to Renato Westby, Program Development Director of Common Hope, many teachers go on strike for months out of the school year because the Ministry of Education and the school have failed to pay their salaries.
This problem encourages teachers to continue these craft projects, which in turn creates an extra economic burden because students are required to buy extra school supplies for these projects even though education through sixth grade is supposed to be free.
So what role does education have in an urban setting? Is it simply a place for children to gather for half a day? Is it nothing more than a daycare? The harsh reality is yes.
The Ministry of Education dictates a national curriculum, but how can this be enforced if no one monitors the classroom?
With a limited education, teachers do not have the training to handle large classrooms, challenge the students and create an environment for discussion and critical thinking.
It is a frustrating method of education, and it only reinforces the cycle of poverty and minimal education.