It is hard to believe our time in Lima has come to an end. Despite long days packed with visits all around the city, and of course lots of traffic, the time flew by. Throughout this time in Lima we have really gotten the chance to see so many sides of the city and its people through the lenses of various education systems. It is quite obvious that there are substantial educational inequalities present in Lima, and this was made very clear through our visit to Tupac Amaru, a public secondary school, in comparison to our visit to Roosevelt, a private American school. The material differences stood out like a sore thumb, with Tupac Amaru having only a few older desktops as a lab and bathrooms that cannot be used because they will just be destroyed whenever the next bad earthquake hits. On the other hand, Roosevelt had a one-to-one laptop program and wanted to rebuild a building that was already in high quality condition. These material inequalities obviously give students at schools like Roosevelt more tools and opportunities to enhance their education and make the most of it, but even without all these material benefits, I believe there would still be a difference. The problem of educational inequality is not solely materialistic and cannot be solved by simply providing schools in need with more materials. It is a systemic issue, that I still believe is fixable, but only with a lot of effort from many different ends of the system.
Gloria Ladson-Billings writes about the inequalities in education in her article, “From Achievement Gap to the Educational Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools.” She argues that instead of solely focusing on this gap, it is important that we understand how it has come to be overtime through various “debts” that accumulate from the all-encompassing education debt. Ladson-Billings is writing from a U.S. perspective, but when reading this article, I noticed a lot of parallels with what we have experienced here in Peru. Though the education debt or achievement gap in Peru may not be as connected to race as it is in the U.S., it definitely still exists between classes. Ladson-Billings discusses historical debt, which emphasizes how education has been limited or forbidden for various groups in the past, meaning they are already behind white students who have always had education accessible to them. I noticed this in context in Peru when we were at Tupac Amaru and they told us that the school was initially formed by parents because their children were not receiving an adequate education, so they had to ensure this themselves. The next debt is the economic debt which highlights the funding disparities between schools for white students and students of color. In Peru, this can be seen by public schools receiving the bare minimum of government funding, while private schools are thriving due to funding from tuition, which inherently disadvantages students who cannot afford to pay for school. The sociopolitical debt refers to how communities of color are excluded from the civic process, making it harder to advocate for themselves in the government. In Peru, lower-class communities are often forgotten or purposefully blocked out of politics as well, which has to do with why schools like Tupac Amaru or in El Agustino struggle to get more funding or resources. The final debt she discusses is the moral debt which is essentially what we owe to different groups of people based on the relationship that existed between the two parties. This is the most complex of the debts, but in the case of Peru it seems evident that there is a moral debt owed to the lower-class communities that have been historically marginalized and disadvantaged by higher-classes. Addressing these debts is one way to begin to address the overall educational debt. Often times, I think that people believe the most effective way to address the debts is through big policy changes, but I argue that these debts can still be addressed in individual classrooms, perhaps even more effectively. Dr. Gibson shared a quote with us during seminar that resonated with this idea, “all we can contribute is our grain of sand.” It is easy to get overwhelmed with believing that policy changes are too difficult and systems are too far gone or corrupt, but if we focus on what we can do on our own, no matter how little it may seem, I think it can still add up to make a difference.
We have seen the educational debt being addressed in various traditional school settings throughout our trip. For example, La Inmaculada is addressing the moral debt through their pastoral program and establishing relationships and sharing resources with poorer schools. I believe the historical, economic and sociopolitical debts, can be addressed through simply making students aware of them from a young age and discussing their implications and what they can do specifically to address them. This can inspire students, who are the next generation of politicians, scientists, engineers and so many other careers, that can make a dent in these education inequalities. This is all feasible in a traditional school setting, but one other important thing I have learned this week in Peru is the significance of non-traditional education and what we can learn from it. Through going to PEA, the alternative night school, to seeing how the people at Lombriz Feliz taught their communities about composting and the environment, I have realized that non-traditional pedagogy can still have a place in a traditional classroom. One thing I noticed in both cases of non-traditional education was the difference in the relationship between the student and the teacher. There is often a rigid power dynamic with the teacher at the top and students at the bottom in a traditional classroom, but in the alternative school settings there was more of a peer relationship between the teacher and student. This made it easier and more evident that both parties to be learning side by side. If educators can implement this type of mentality in a traditional school setting, or at least have a more balanced power dynamic, the classroom will feel more enjoyable and like a safe place to learn. This can also impact the fixing of educational inequalities because this takes no physical materials to put into action in a classroom and can therefore be done no matter how much funding or resources a school is starting off with. A student’s experience ultimately does come down to the atmosphere and teachers of the school, and I think if teachers are dedicated to making their classroom a safe place where they are learning alongside their students and using a social-justice oriented education they are doing the best they can to fix the achievement gap. This is obviously easier said than done, but I believe it is all about contributing your own grain of sand, but by putting everyone’s grain together we can create a whole beach.