Friday, May 04, 2007
The Chile School System
The United States schools are divided into two seperate sectors, private, and public. The Chilean schools are divided into three, 1)public, 2)private, and 3)half public and half private. The half private, half public, and the full private schools are able to pick which students are allowed to attend. The other schools have no decision making power and accept all students. However, unlike in the US, there are no school districts directing which school a student must attend. The parents have a choice of which school their child may attend, allowing that the school has openings. For example, there are many rural towns within a thirty minute drive of Pichilemu, with their own schools located within the town, but because the parents can elect their choice school, I have many students in my schools from the rural towns. These students live in boarding houses during the week, to avoid the cost of transportation, and then live with their parents on the weekend.
I am working at two basico public schools, Divino Maestro and Digna Camilo. Basico means that the students range from pre-kinder to 8th grade. It is a combination of elementary and middle school. These schools, although similar, have differences as well. For instance Digna Camilo is a much older school and has been around since the begining of time, at least Pichilemu's time. Divino Maestro is brand spanking new and was built two years ago, primarily because there was a need for another school for students from the rural areas. Because there seems to be a lack of available teachers, some from Digna Camilo were reassigned to the new school. Evidently there was no option for the teachers to stay or go, they were told what they would do, and they obeyed. Something that all Chilean public schools have in common is a general lack of funding and materials. Books are almost always available, but projectors, radios, televisions any other teaching supplements are not provided or available.
When I say that I am working at these schools, I should clarify that I am a volunteer at these schools. Schools with english programs apply for volunteers through the Ministry of Education and a volunteer is assigned. There is supposed to be this rigorous process with many different requirements but the only real requirment seems to be having a school and frankly, none of us really understand why they choose the schools they do. As a volunteer with English Opens Doors, my only requirements seem to be that I speak English and I have a degree (not that they have seen it or asked for it.) I am then assigned to an English teacher in a designated school, that I am supposed to work with. We divide the classes up into 20 and 20 and after 45 minutes, we switch groups. I am to work with listening and speaking while the other teacher works with reading and writting. Our plans are supposed to correspond with each other, but at the moment, I am breaking the rules and focusing soley on getting the kids to the level of understanding and responding to basic questions such as "What is your name? and "How are you?" Interestingly, the kids hear the question "How are you?" everyday, and respond in unision "Fine, Thank you." but have no idea as to what they are saying. For all they know or care, they are saying, "I am a monkey and you are too!"
The school buildings are incredibly poorly built out of concrete, and without insulation or temperature control additives such as heaters or ACs. Because South America is in the Southern Hemisphere, we are in Fall, which in Region 6 is not an extremely cold season, and in fact very close to the temperatures in central Texas, but because no public buildings have heaters the buildings contain the cold as if it were their sole purpose for standing. The schools might as well be the Ice Palace in Narnia with the only difference being the addition of desks and a white board. Unfortunatly, although I teach in the Ice Palace, I lack the power to freeze any students who deserve the ice staff, which happens to be all of them. I feel like the buildings are taunting me sticking their cold, concrete tongues out in a way only a school can, chanting "just try to teach students, who all need Ridalin and corpral punishment, and as an added bonus, you'll have to keep moving around to avoid from freezing to the desk!" Ok, so my students haven't frozen to their desks yet, and I don't think we are actually located in Narnia, but I truly wear gloves, a hat and three layers of clothes to school in Fall because it is colder inside the classrooms than outside. The teachers, during their breaks, drink tea and coffee, not for the taste I don't think but for a substitute heating device. I am definitly looking forward to the rainy winter when not only will we have to battle cold, but we will have an extra adversery to add to this delightful picture; wetness.
I have a better understanding of the school system than I thought was possible, considering my ignorance of the language, but I am still confused about this next situation. I am under the impression that there is a teacher shortage in Chile considering that the majority of the teachers now, are all over 40 and counting. However, the schools claim that there are too many teachers per school to give each teacher their own classroom. Therefore, students have their own classroom and the teachers move around from ice room to ice room. This means that the 40 students in each classroom rule their class. The classroom is their domain, their jungle, and the teachers are just passing visitors or lion tamers for an hour and a half. If there are any decorations on the walls, it is not the teacher's doing. Materials are carried from class to class by the teacher throughout the day. Luckily, the students love to carry their teacher's things and are more than willing to enslave themselves for 5 minutes to help their teacher. Once in the classroom, it's a very different story.
Other differences include a lack of a discipline program. There is no such thing as ISS (In School Suspension) or Alternative school. There is also a law in Chile that all students have to be in the classroom at all times during the school day, so being sent home is not an option either. Basically if a student misbehaves regularly, there is nothing to be done except possibly call the parent, who may or may not care to discipline their child and the child is then left in class to continue their disruptions. With 40 students in one class and no threat of consequences, discipline is a near impossible feat. Along with no discipline program, there is no school nurse or school counselor or anyone else for that matter. There are teachers, one to two secretaries, an equivalent to a Principle and a Vice Principle and that about wraps it up. The other day, I had a student in my class who started to cry becuase she felt sick, and there was nothing for me to do with her, except let her lie down on the chairs. There was no school nurse to send her to and I was at a loss. When I asked my English teacher about it, she said "We are teachers, nurses, psychologists, mothers, and whatever else the kids need us to be."
The different schools: Divino Maestro (DM) and Digna Camilo (DC). Divino Maestro is about a ten minute walk from my house. This school is larger than DC because there is more than one of each grades. So instead of one single 7th grade class there are two seperate classes where at DC there is only one class of each grade level. Divino Maestro also has an English teacher who speaks English pretty well. Her name is Brenda. I somtimes forget that she is not a native speaker. I am so thankful to have someone to speak English with that I start to talk at my normal rapid pace, before she has to slow me down. Brenda is a lovely, single woman who lives on her own in one of the nicests houses in Pichilemu, with black curly hair, and a strong love for her family in Talca. She worked over 60 hours at three different schools for several years in a row to save up and build her own house. She teaches her English classes in English which is a rarity here in Chile. Carmen, a very sweet older woman with a lazy eye is my principle English teacher at DC, but I also have the priveledge of working with two other teachers at DC giving me a grand total of 4 teachers to coordinate lesson plans with. There is a serious lack of English teachers in Pichi, so any teacher who is the most qualified, meaning they have had at least one course, is the next in line for teaching this foreign language that no one knows. Carmen has taken English courses, but the only English words I have ever heard uttered from her mouth are Hello and Good-bye. Loreta and Louis are the other two teachers I work with. Loreto is currently enrolled in English lessons, and Luis actually speaks some and understands some, but I honestly feel more comfortable speaking in Spanish with all of them. Carmen is the teacher who has been informed as to why I am at their school, and what my true purpose is here, but still to this day, the other teachers at DC have not been properly informed as to how best to utilize me. I have tried explaining how the program works, and what I am supposed to do, but because they haven't been told what the English Opens Doors Program is really about, they don't really know what to do with me even after I have attempted explainations in both languages. (We were supposed to have a meeting yesterday, but Carmen fell ill, maybe next week).