For many years I have worked as a teacher all over the world. This has afforded me many wonderful memories with my students and insightful exchanges with my fellow teachers. Also, these experiences have given me an insider into teachers and students and their struggles with education in developing countries.
Education is of the utmost importance for helping empower and enable youth to find new opportunities, explore new ideas and have the option to look at the world through a more informed lens. On the other education can also be used as tool of indoctrination which can suppress ideas and opportunities for change. This is why teacher training and support are so necessary especially in countries that suffer from a look of classroom resources.
Unfortunately, lack of teacher support and training usually goes hand in hand with lack of material resources. From my experience in Guatemala, I see how much students are disadvantaged by this dual scarcity. Teachers lack technical support and find their jobs difficult, undervalued and underpaid, which in turn diminishes the quality and consistency of the national education system.
During my time teaching in two public schools in rural highland Guatemala, school has been cancelled numerous times; due to strikes against the government, teacher rallies and general time mismanagement. Often when I come to school children and playing outside or teachers are mulling around. Teachers have only a loose curriculum to work with and the teacher training has not given them the tools to create one themselves. This is not to suggest that they should have to create their own curriculum or to disparage their conduct as teachers. Even the most trained of teachers would find it difficult to work under these conditions and I applaud my fellow colleagues for entering this field with little pay, support or room to grow professionally. Nonetheless, these conditions must change within the public school sector because increasingly, here and all over the world, a two tiered public/private school system is being expanded and intensified. While I was in India they said it wasn’t a two-tiered system but a seven tiered system, reminiscent of the caste system that is still embedded in their society. Living in a society where the equality gap is so great, it is scary to think that free education will be devalued because of a real and perceived concern over its quality.
Free education is not enough; governments must invest in their teachers. First, so that they received adequate teacher training that will help them to work within schools that may or may not lack adequate teacher resources. Second, teachers should have room to grow within the profession. Since, educational administrators and directors are lacking within this school system so giving teachers the option to fill those roles could help to motivate them to continue with their training and improving their CV’s. These middle management positions are desperately needed to ensure oversight of teachers and greater assessments into the school conditions so that targeted and purposeful improvements are made. Lastly, teachers need to feel they are being adequately paid for their employment. Salaries are contentious in developing countries and I have spoken with many locals who do not believe teachers earn their wage. This is similar in India and elsewhere where nationally funded jobs are prized. Nonetheless, the national school system could build in incentives so that teachers can raise their wages based on classroom goals and merit, training and professional development efforts.
The purpose of all of this would be to fortify educational system through the teachers who are currently struggling to do their jobs effectively.
Why I believe that a focus on teachers would be effective is that I see how much their students’ lives and wellbeing means to them. From my experience I can say that the disarray of the classrooms and schools here in Guatemala is not due to apathy on the teachers’ part. Actually, I am always astounded with the amounts of unabashed love and care the teachers give their student. Many have raised funds to supply their schools with daily lunch program that is currently being underfunded by the government as well as bringing in food, and party supplies for special school functions. Furthermore, I’ve had teacher come house to house with me to do needs assessments so that their students could possibly by eligible for scholarships next year.
Focusing on and investing in teachers as human resources will have a twofold benefit. First, it will provide students with well-trained educators who are capable of handling classrooms that may be lacking in material resources. And by specializing teacher training they will also be able to provide relevant and useful education that will cater to their students’ social and cultural needs. Second, by giving teachers adequate wages and professional skills and tools there will be greater job satisfaction and it will professionalize the status of teacher. This in turn will attract citizens who are serious about putting in the time and effort to enter into this field of work. The secondary, long term benefits of investing in teachers and education are vast and are harder to quantify. Yet we do know that educated populations enjoy greater civilian stability, higher employment, better health and longer lives, to name a few.
Teachers’ need to be celebrated for the role they play in shaping formative minds, creating social order and strengthen nations. We should remember that all great minds once had great teachers and that this process will be cyclical. At this point in time we are at a critical stage where we need great minds to unite and fortify our world that at times seems in disarray.
-Julia Rao, IYIP intern, Guatemala 2011
YCI’s International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) Interns are funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Our IYIP interns spend 7-9 months working with YCI’s partner organizations in Latin American, South America and Africa. The application process to become an IYIP intern is highly competitive. Applications for our 2012 internship positions will open in early November.
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