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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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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