Saturday, March 5, 2011

School Daze: Some Context

I have been observing and beginning to help teach classes in the public Básico school in the next town over (7th-9th grade age kids). Before getting to my role, here are some things that stuck out at me about how the day to day in this school works. 

These kids have 9 class periods a day, half and hour each. They take 15 subjects. They are taking all their courses in Spanish, although most speak K'iche' in their home. With class sizes of over 50 kids, a good portion of each class period is taken by calling attendance.  

Classes are regularly cancelled. Sometimes for official reasons -- Valentine's Day, or an assembly for the parents. Other times because the teacher just doesn't show. Maybe he wanted to run an errand. Maybe she didn't like being scheduled for classes late in the day. It happens with alarming frequency. The students have no text books. There is no budget for worksheets, so any photocopies come out of a teachers pocket (I haven't seen anyone ponying up for that).  

Many classes consist of a teacher dictating out of their single textbook, while the kids write what they hear verbatim in three colors of pen, coded for Title, Subtitle and Body of the text. The kid’s heads move in synchronized waves as they look up at the teacher and down at their papers. Self directed activities are all but unheard of, and I have yet to see a student speak up to ask for clarification (even when it's clear the bulk of the kids are confused). It appears that when homework is given, it is graded on a pass/fail basis. If you have something to show (even if it's completely wrong), you get the points. If you don't, you get a zero. Homework is graded during class, calling the students up during attendance, making it common to teach no new material on days that homework is due.

On the other hand, the teachers haven't yet been paid and have been working for approaching two months.  It's harder to fault them for laxness when they're working for free thus far.  I will not be surprised if there demonstrations or strikes on the horizon.

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