Friday, March 13, 2015

Learning, Schools and Culture

school supply store
It seems to me that we often undervalue those things that come easily to us. Take education for example…In Canada, it is free and easily accessible to all. In the school district where I used to work, parents paid a nominal fee, if they were able, for unlimited school supplies. In Oaxaca, even the poorest families must pay for school supplies and for uniforms. Remember, the minimum wage is 66 pesos a day and families are large.
dedication plaques for the law school
Despite the poverty, there seem to be schools of all sorts in the city of Oaxaca de Juarez. The earliest schools were seminaries founded by the Spanish priests to convert the indigenous people. Because of the rugged, mountainous terrain of the state of Oaxaca, it has always been necessary for students to move to the city to be educated.
students in the courtyard of the Oaxaca Institute of Arts and Sciences
The average Oaxacan student attends school for 6.39 years. For indigenous people who comprise a third of of the population, only 5% have completed primary school. The Oaxaca Learning Center where I am volunteering and where I will be living in April and May helps to prepare students for Secondary school and University. Yesterday, I met with the Coordinator of English Volunteers, Pamela
Mendez Duarte, who came as a student for tutoring at the centre, and now attends the Benito Juarez University as well as being employed as Coordinator. All of the paid employees of the Center are Oaxacan people who have been involved with TOLC and who have attended University. Some have even attained a Master's Degree.
Beautiful educational buildings are everywhere.
When the orphaned  Benito Juarez walked into the city of Oaxaca at the age of 12, he realized that only through education would his life be improved. A Zapotec, who did not speak Spanish, Juarez became a lawyer and the most respected President of Mexico. An interesting fact that I just read was that Benito might have been the shortest president in world history (4 '6"). The reality for the people in the mountain pueblos has not changed much in 200 years.

Today, I will be meeting my first student. As I have no materials provided, I will go to the Lending Library where I am also volunteering and borrow some English books. My student is 23 so I hope that my choices will not offend her.

In Canada, students take it for granted that paper, pencils and notebooks will be provided. In addition, there will be cars, cellphones and spending money. The students of Oaxaca expect nothing. This is really an adventure for me!

12 comments:

  1. What an adventure, indeed! Good luck with this new project. I'll follow with interest. I taught ESL for some years in Germany - flight crews from many NATO countries. It was a job I loved.

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    1. I have worked with teachers in Canada who taught in Germany and really enjoyed the experience.
      This will be an adventure for me because Mexico is so different from Canada or the parts of Europe that I have visited.

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  2. I'm finding your adventure so very interesting and inspiring. I look forward to reading what your new student thinks -- I doubt she will be offended, knowing how thoughtful you are.

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    1. As a teacher, you would smile (a little). I purchased some basic materials at the Provedora Escolar, chose three appropriate books to do a reading assessment. I waited at the Centre, prepared for my first lesson and my student did not arrive! Apparently, she had telephoned but nobody gave me the message! So now I won't have a student until Tuesday. Some things never change!

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  3. If your new student is willing...it would be interesting to know what she hopes for the future and what she finds most valuable about learning English. I am appreciating the historical insights, by the way. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I am interested to find out what she is studying at University and what her background is. There is a lot of history in Oaxaca. Founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, it is one of the oldest cities in North America.

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  4. Madame I'm also enjoying your posts very much. Enjoy your weekend.

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  5. Thank you. Oaxaca has such a different culture from any of the cities that I have visited in Europe. Have a good weekend as well!

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  6. I am enjoying these peeks into Mexican and particularly Oaxacan education. More so because we had a 12 year old Cora girl move to our school 2 weeks ago. She has completed primary school in Jesús y María, Nayarit. She speaks Spanish, but her vocabulary seems limited. I'm the only one who speaks Spanish at our school and we've never had a student who needed ESL before. I'd love to pick your brain on this subject. Every day I am surprised at what we take for granted that our 7th grade students come to us knowing that she's had no experience with.

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  7. If she comes from a small Cora pueblo, it is likely the teacher in the school was a person from the pueblo.
    There are Normal Schools for Indigenous People but most of the teachers lack training. Spanish is often a second language after the indigenous language so Spanish vocabulary is not very rich. I sponsored a Zapotec student teacher for 4 years and the children just don't have the experiences or learning materials that our children have.

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  8. It looks like her town has around 2,000 people. I checked and the school has about 350 students and I think a staff of 20 or so. Would that be 20 teachers? I mentioned today that an assignment I had given her was for a grade and she didn't seem to have any concept of grades. At first I thought I was using a word that wasn't the one that she's used to, but as I went on searching for the right word, I don't think she's familiar with the concept of grades. Does that sound right to you?

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  9. The rural indigenous school system is unregulated and although the government has tried over the last few years to standardize it, economics and resistance by teacher groups have impeded the progress. Apparently, Mexican students are usually rated numerically from 5 to 10. 5 being fail, 10 being excellent work. I have just met my first 2 students for tutoring and the gap between the assigned material and the students' current ability is vast. I'm doing 3 hours a week one on one with English and I'm going to have to start with the basic letter sounds. Good luck with your student.

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