With my improved Spanish abilities (albeit, only moderately improved!), this has opened up many new opportunities for me to help in the area of education here in Nicaragua.
This summer I have started to explore how I can help other teachers and schools, especially local ones. Education here, while improved from what it had been, is still terrible.
Out of all the 15 Latin American countries, Nicaraguan students gained the least growth in their skill levels between 2006 and 2013. In Grade 3, 15% reached satisfactory levels in reading and comprehension and 12% in math. Only 20% of those taking a basic math requirement exam for university entrance will pass. 7,000 Nicaraguan primary teachers do not have a degree. A person can have 3 years of high school, 6 months of training, and no follow up, and be considered a teacher. A teacher’s salary does not cover his or her basic needs, there are not classrooms stocked for subjects such as physics, chemistry, or computers, textbooks are not always linked to content, can be 25 or more years old, and often a class only has one copy – for the teacher, from which she reads and the students copy onto paper.
This is a documentary done by a Nicaraguan film crew last year. I would highly recommend watching it if you can spare an hour. In it, the director of Escuela Montessori Jan Amos Comenius, Elba Rivera, says, “The teacher is key. We should invest much more in teacher training.” And that is precisely where I have focused my energy.
While I was in Esteli for language school, I had the opportunity to attend a public school for the afternoon (students only attend class for half a day – morning, afternoon, or evening). I sat in on Grade 9. One teacher was great and did her best with the limited resources she had. She mostly had control with classroom management, and asked good questions to engage the students. She even had a hook at the beginning of her lesson! One teacher was planning (and learning) the class content as she was teaching it. It was about synonyms and antonyms. Questions were very basic and there was one textbook, which she held and dictated from. There was no classroom management. The next teacher came in, plugged her cellphone in, sat down at the desk, waited 3 minutes to begin, dictated a paragraph from the textbook, told the students to think about what they just wrote, and then reached for her phone. 12 minutes went by (yes, I was timing and writing it down) with no changes. Students were chatting about everything but class while she played on her phone. Then, she pulled out a chocolate bar and ate it. 3 more minutes. She said, “You should be working,” from her desk, with barely a glance up from her phone. Then, 16 minutes later the bell rang. I still do not what subject that class was. Once teachers are hired here, they cannot be fired unless they’ve committed a crime, so even more so, teacher training is essential.
The classroom was very bare. There was nothing on the walls except a photocopied alphabet (with a few upside down letters tossed in for good measure), a couple of old alphabet colouring sheets, and a peeling bulletin board of upcoming holidays (from two months prior). Two out of six fluorescent lights worked, the desk chairs were by far the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever sat in, and the chalkboard was so scratched up and plastered with mystery something that only one of the teachers bothered to write something on it.
While my experiences in public Nicaraguan education are more limited, I know that the day I had in Grade 9 is not uncommon across the country. And this is in a city. Rural schools often mean less, too.
So, this journey of mine in teacher training started out with me heading off to Jinotega (a city in northern Nicaragua) to spend a weekend working with a newly hired teacher and school which will open in January. There currently is no Christian school in Jinotega and options are lacking for quality education. So, I spent all day Saturday helping Ruth plan her first week of school, a daily schedule, list of procedures to teach the wee ones, ideas of class rules, and centre ideas. Then, on Sunday, I met with a group of students studying at the university to become English as a Second Language teachers. We talked generally about best practices, pedagogy, etc.
Upon returning to Managua before school started, I spent a week working with Tesoros de Dios (God’s Treasures). It is a centre for kids with disabilities with physical therapy, speech, horse therapy, and so much more. I observed each of the classroom teachers during their educational times, and especially focused in on the Grade 1 & 2 class. I was able to collect some observations and easy-to-implement strategies and activities to suggest to them. I also redesigned a poorly used spaced as a “secret” reading nook with a mosquito net tent, comfy pillows, books, and sparkly stars, with butcher paper on the three surrounding walls to allow for some child-inspired graffiti.
When I presented my suggestions to one of the directors of Tesoros, she was so thrilled by the ideas, but said that the staff really needed a whole professional development session to be able to practice with some of these strategies. So, she asked myself and our Special Ed teacher at NCA to put together an afternoon PD session for them. We were able to host this at NCA, so the staff also got to see our classrooms and some of the tools and set-ups that we use.
Finally, this year I have been paired with a new teacher (who has my old job of teaching Grade 1) to be a mentor. I can’t say that I am doing a great job of this area, but enjoy being able to share some of the things that I have learned thus far.
I had some really great pictures to include for you, too, but my phone disappeared.
- Jinotega Christian Academy – that they would be granted their paperwork to be an official school (political reasons are saying that the current teachers are not acceptable)
- NCA – that they would continue to be accessible to Nicaraguan families as a high-quality level of education, and raise up future leaders who can have an impact on this country’s education
- Teachers – desire to strive for excellence in spite of challenges, wisdom
- Students – desire to strive for excellence in spite of challenges
- Government – wisdom to provide better for education (Nicaragua has one of the lowest percentages of their budget going towards education in Latin America)
- Praise God for his work in these areas so far, with people and organizations who care deeply about education and are making a difference