Peru

Peruvian Teachers Make The Grade Despite Hostile Working Conditions

The country’s best and brightest teachers celebrate what they’re able to achieve under less-than-ideal conditions. Here, the government is the enemy.

Kids in Cusco, Peru
Kids in Cusco, Peru
Patricia Teullet

- Analysis -

LIMA — Did you know that the chanchito (woodlouse) you find in the garden, that little grey animal children play with by making ground paths and organizing races, is a crustacean? Like a lobster and not a bug? That it produces urea, which is a great fertilizer?

I confess that I just learned that, and not through the Internet. It was explained to us by a teacher from Callao, who was a finalist in the Teacher Who Leaves A Mark contest recently held in Lima. I also learned that there are rural schools in Peru that have a budget of just 800 soles ($284) a year. Despite this, the kids go to school happily and with an eagerness to learn. Furthermore, they use XO-1 computers (also known as “the $100 laptop”) even if the teachers have to learn how to use them at the same time as the kids. Sometimes teachers pay for replacements out of their own pockets.

I've learned other things about Peruvian schools as well. For example, there is a school in Cajamarca being financed with somewhere between $37 and $65 through the leadership of its technology teacher. I've learned that the trees they have planted protect them from the wind and that the children haul water from a river several kilometers away to water them during the dry season.

I now know that, even though there are no food programs for secondary schools, a school in Ayacucho offers bread with avocado and peaches to 62 students. The kids have learned how to cultivate fruit trees for food and as also a way to combat soil erosion.

In a rural school in Apurímac, a 26-year-old teacher decided to take the kids outdoors to learn math. He took them to count the steps at an archeological site and to measure and calculate areas and perimeters. He also allows students to play in class with math software he designed himself. This approach has led to a two-point increase in his students’ grade point average.

A teacher in Madre de Dios, where the kids are victims of illegal mining and violence, has started a radio program. She has created a space where the kids themselves talk about their problems. They are being taught how to be heard, and that they deserve to be.

It was seven years ago that the currency trading network Interbank began organizing the Teacher Who Leaves A Mark contest. Thanks to that, we’ve also learned about teachers who worked unceasingly to rebuild a school destroyed by a river. They didn’t stop until they found 16 computers to be shared by 600 students in a poor area of Puno. Other teachers here constantly strive for safe infrastructure, qualified staffers and teaching equipment for children with special abilities who will eventually go into the labor market.

One group of teachers started a hostel and school for hundreds of orphan children in the Vraem area. There are those who, even though they have better opportunities, would rather stay in a village in Tumbes because they know that there is a greater need for them there than anywhere else.

No government support

Amid the passion with which the teachers present their projects and achievements, there is, however, one sour feeling they all share: disappointment about the lack of support from authorities. They smile with sadness when asked about the Ministry of Education. The truth is that most of these projects are not collaborations with the government. They exist, actually, in spite of it. Each project they manage to push forward is a victory against the broken system.

In Peru, education takes center stage when there are strikes, bad results in statewide tests, illegal fees or when teachers and directors commit abuses. There are very few occasions when education here is good news.

There were 25 finalists in this year’s contest. They came from all regions of the country and were whittled from more than 4,000 applications. How many pages will the press dedicate to it, to them?

Public-private partnerships, which are being used in Peru mostly for bricks and mortar and other infrastructure, are in fashion with the government. But the human element is important too, and these 25 finalists deserve formal recognition from the state. They have undergone a very strict evaluation process, demonstrated their leadership and proven an absolute dedication to teaching. Maybe just this once, government officials could acknowledge that partnerships are meant for more than just asphalt.

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Valentin Sprinchak/TASS via ZUMA
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