Postcards from Guatemala

I’m here learning about the educational system in order to assist colleagues in developing new materials, and to contextualize existing training materials for school leaders in low-fee private schools. I’ve also had the chance to experience the wonderful hospitality of this nation.

Guatemala City has about one million inhabitants and is subdivided into 22 zones making it easy to locate schools. Zones are numbered 1-25 and when asking for directions people will tell you that something is in a particular zone. The lovely historic area of town is Zone 1.

The school year is ending right now and I had the pleasure of hearing about what children and youth will be doing over the long vacation (working, hanging out with friends, taking extra classes, etc.).

These secondary students are sanding down their desks which is typically done at the end of the year in many schools.   I think it’s a great idea!

Students have a long vacation with classes not starting again until late January/early February. It begs all kinds of questions—How many days should children attend school and how long should the school day be? Like many other Central American countries most Guatemalan public and private schools have two shifts (7-noonish) and 1:30-2:00 to 5:00ish. So, although we know the research on seat time (it’s about quality not quantity) I just find that children in so many low-income countries are attending school significantly fewer hours than those in many high-income nations.

Here are two timetables (horarios).

Below is an end of the year exam schedule for the second shift students.

The outside of a typical school in Guatemala City.

The education challenges in this country are many: low levels of literacy, attainment and retention, and great disparities between urban and rural populations, among indigenous students, and between male and female students.

Children’s writings and art about the importance of peace.

Since the Peace Accords of 1996 (the Guatemalan Civil War lasted thirty-six-years and took place from 1960 to 1996), all government administrations have supported the expansion of primary schools. Since 2009, primary school enrollment rates have been almost 100% and there is nearly equal enrollment of boys and girls.  According to data from USAid, first grade completion rates have increased dramatically (by 18%) in the last four years as a result of the implementation of several quality education policies and programs.  Still, more than 30% of students did not pass first grade in 2013.  In addition, only about three-fourths of those enrolled in primary school graduate from 6th grade (80% of boys and 73% of girls), and the enrollment rate for middle school (7th-9th grades) is less than 40%. There’s so much work to do!

 

A newspaper article describing how test scores reflect the education reality of the nation.

 

We met with several staff in the Office of Evaluation and Assessment. According to 2010 Ministry of Education data, 50% of third graders reached national standards in mathematics and just over 50% reached national standards in reading.  Among sixth graders, only 45% reached national mathematics standards and only 30% achieved national reading standards.

More than two million youths between the ages of 15 and 24 are out of school and don’t have basic life or vocational skills to enter the workforce.  Youth face increasingly difficult conditions, including high levels of unemployment, social and economic marginalization, rapid urbanization, increasing crime, and lack of basic services.  You can see why so many youth head North for work.

Starting in a few months nine new countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Ecuador, Paraguay, Zambia, Senegal, Cambodia and Bhutan will be participating for the first time in the Program for International Student Achievement (PISA).

These posters were hanging in the ministry office.

Some travel observations…

Like nearly all major cities in the world there is chronic traffic congestion. Guatemala also has shortages of safe drinkable water in some areas of the city, and crime (there are maras—gangs) are perennial problems.  Folks told me that the gangs started in Los Angeles and when people returned to Guatemala they brought the concept with them.

The city of Antigua is a fabulous place to visit—lovely, colorful, lots of museums, art, gardens and great restaurants. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. I only spent a day there, but I hope to return in a few months!

A main street in Antigua

 

The Convent of the Capuchin Sisters

Finally, I’m not sure how many countries in the world have MacDonald’s deliveries, but Guatemala sure seems to have these motor bikes everywhere!

 

You might want to visit some time…but skip MacDonald’s and try the flor de Jamaica—it’s a special type of hibiscus juice—a bit sweet and sour—deliciosa!

Meet Paula Cordeiro