Whether you look at education in Peru, the United States or any other country, inequalities are present, either immediately visible or hidden. On Monday, we visited Tupac Amaru, a public secondary school, and on Tuesday we visited Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an American K-12 school serving the wealthy. While both schools are the same size at 1,800 students, the differences between these two schools were very stark. At Tupac Amaru, the school has three different sessions: morning; afternoon and night. At Colegio Roosevelt, students attend for the full day. Extracurriculars at Colegio Roosevelt are plentiful. They have a debate team, sports teams such as swimming, soccer, basketball and volleyball, theater programs, and many clubs such as Model United Nations. Once or twice a year their sports teams even travel internationally to countries in South America. However, at Tupac Amaru there are no extracurriculars offered. Technology at Tupac Amaru consists of one room with about 20 computers. At Colegio Roosevelt, technology is everywhere. They have innovation rooms, makerspaces and students in grades 6–12 are required to purchase a laptop. Jeff Rosen, Direction of Teaching and Innovation at Colegio Roosevelt, said that at a banquet held at Colegio Roosevelt, one saw 90% of Peru’s wealth on the dance floor that night. This story highlights the inequality within Peru and the types of families that Colegio Roosevelt serves. He also said that the students who attend Colegio Roosevelt have “won the birth lottery.” This lottery system solely based on where you’re born and what assets your family has can be a big determining factor in the life of a newborn.
At first glance, these are just a few distinctions between Tupac Amaru and Colegio Roosevelt that highlight the inequalities and differences. One topic that we have grappled with this week is, what are the problems that lead to educational inequalities and if these educational inequalities are fixable or not. Some may argue that educational inequality is simply a material problem; however, I would argue against this. While having the proper materials in an educational setting will help, this doesn’t address the systemic problems at hand and is just a band aid to the situation, not a long term fix. There are long term changes that need to occur in order to minimize educational inequalities. Ladson-Billings, in “From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt,” argues that the inequality in the United States’ education system should be viewed as an educational debt rather than an achievement gap. There are four kinds of educational debt that Ladson-Billings suggests and wants us to focus on. They are: historical debt, economic debt, sociopolitical debt and moral debt. These four debts encompass deeper ethical, moral, political, philosophical, cultural, and legal problems in our society today. These types of debt have produced deep, cross-cutting inequalities that have produced long term problems. These four debts must be addressed for education to be more equal.
The business world of getting a job is ever changing, and what people look for in hiring candidates is evolving as well. Jeff Rosen from Colegio Roosevelt stated two main characteristics that he looks for when hiring a teacher: someone who is a good team worker (collaboration) and has a genuine love for children. Wagner, in The Global Achievement Gap, Intro & Chapter 1 ,states that there are seven skills needed to thrive in the 21st century. These skills include critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; curiosity and imagination. Whether these characteristics can be learned through traditional schooling of rote memorization is highly debatable. Rote memorization doesn’t promote critical thinking and inquiry which is greatly valued in our society today. Along with rote memorization, schools and teachers are simply teaching to the test. This type of schooling has lead to an outdated educational system. If one of the main purposes of education is to allow for students to flourish, rote memorization and teaching to tests doesn’t promote flourishing in the 21st century and isn’t as valued as it was in the previous century.
This rote memorization and teaching to the test was labeled as the banking concept by Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Chapter 2. The banking concept dehumanizes students and sees them as objects rather than as individuals. “Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor.” Freire suggests problem posing education as an alternative to the banking concept. Problem posing education is established on creativity and reflection which promotes curiosity and critical thinking. This type of education builds upon Wagner’s seven skills necessary in the 21st century.
Crawford, in “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” argues that manual labor crafts such as plumbing or mechanics engage people in the critical thinking schools currently deprive us from. At my high school, mechanics class was the only manual labor craft offered. However, at Tupac Amaru these manual labor crafts were abundant. They promote technical training at their secondary school. Classes in mechanics, wood working, sewing and cosmetics are offered. Most of the students at Tupac Amaru will not be attending a university. Thus the promotion of trades at Tupac Amaru is a way of preparing their students to enter the labor force right after secondary school with valuable skills.
While a formal school setting is important in addressing issues of inequality, policy and local grassroots organizations also play a crucial role. In addition to the formal school setting, we observed education taking place at PEA, Casitas and Lombriz Feliz. PEA is an alternative education program for adults trying to receive their equivalent of a GED. PEA is unique in the way teachers assist their students. Teaching and learning is not based on rote memorization through a textbook, but through teaching critical thinking skills. Casitas are after school programs for children that provide them with important social and life skills that are aimed at keeping children away from drugs, gangs and violence. During my time in El Agustino, I have been to 4 different Casitas programs and have witnessed common themes between all of them. At each Casitas we were able to participate in activities that encourage emotional expression and/or reflection which the children may not experience anywhere else. Both of these components are central in the healthy development of children. Lombriz Feliz, or Happy Worm, is a community organization started in 1991 with the goal of finding a solution to the immense garbage problem in their community. Everyday in Lima, 20,000 tons of waste is produced and only half of it can be reused or is organic material. Lombriz Feliz is a factory of the biological cycle, where they have composting, urban gardening, organic soil and make baskets out of old newspapers. This organization is deeply integrated into the community and has gained national recognition for their efforts. Lombriz Feliz is just one example of education happening outside of a traditional setting and making a significant impact. PEA, Casitas and Lombriz Feliz are just three organizations this week that have shown us the importance of education outside of formal schooling. These non traditional forms of schooling have certain characteristics that traditional schooling doesn’t offer but can learn from. They attempt to make the power dynamics more equal, there is an emphasis on building relationships and humanization, and there is a stress placed on community and interdependency. Inequality continues to persist and there is no foreseeable structural or systemic change in the education system, I believe it is time to place a strong emphasis on community organizations such as SEA, Casitas and Lombriz Feliz to fight inequality.