Slipping through the cracks

by: Joanna Krupp

This past week we started our observations and interviews in one of the two secondary schools we’re focusing on. Every morning since Monday I’ve been sitting in on classes in math, history, science, Spanish, and life skills. Although we haven’t officially analyzed any of our data yet and won’t until we have finished collecting it at the end of next week, I want to share some of my preliminary observations.

First of all, I’ve seen a discrepancy between what the schools record as the graduation rates of boys vs. girls and what I have observed in class. The majority of the graduates from secondary school are boys—this statistic was confirmed by both of the secondary schools we’re studying. However, in my observations, few classes have more boys than girls. Almost across the board I’ve seen more behavioral problems and less focus from the boys in class than from the girls. A history teacher who we interviewed today said a similar thing—she explained that boys might be louder and more boisterous in class, but girls are much more responsible about getting their work done and present much fewer problems in class. So, if these observations are accurate, why aren’t the girls graduating when it appears that they take school more seriously?

My second observation, coming more from talking to teachers and directors, and less from observations, is that homework assignments are assigned to students that require the internet, but computers are not provided by the school outside of class hours. Tupac Amaru, where we have been this week, has a computer lab with twenty something computers and Internet, but no Wi-Fi. Michaela, where we’ll be observing next week, also has a computer lab but has no internet and only twelve working computers. Students can use the computer lab during an elective period where they choose between carpentry, computer class, electrician class, and a few others. Outside of these times, though, the computer labs are locked. When homework is assigned, students go to internet cafes and must pay to do their homework. It is hard for me to believe that this isn’t a burden for students in Pampachica for whom it’s already hard to get food on the table. I haven’t had the chance to ask our friends like Patrick, Robín, Antony, and Mayer (all attending Tupac), and Carla and Susan (attending Michaela) about their experiences with internet access and homework.

Finally, I’ve noticed a huge difference between the teaching styles here and in the US. Almost all of the classes I’ve observed have been structured the same; students sit at their desks and pay attention while the teacher talks and asks some questions. Only once have I been in a class that used group work, and I have yet to see handouts being passed out. Instead, assignments are presented verbally or written on the board for students to copy into their notebooks, or assignments are taken directly from the textbooks that the school gives each student. The most dramatic difference I see, though, is in the way students are expected to answer questions. Teachers do not enforce raising hands, so the first person or the loudest person to yell out an answer is frequently rewarded by getting the teacher’s attention. Even when teachers ask for raised hands, the class quickly regresses back to shouting answers. Another strategy I’ve seen is the teacher starting a sentence and then having the class fill in the blank of a word or phrase to complete the sentence. This strategy again favors the more confident, boisterous students in the class and neglects the fact that students may have other methods of learning.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the boundaries to education that our research is elucidating. Every day I am awed by the dedication of the students who are fighting to make it in a system that seems to be set against them. Because of the expectations of internet access and aggressive class participation, I can’t help but think that many kids just fall through the cracks of this system. When I originally saw that percentages of students who pass on to the next grade are as low as 30% and rarely surpass 70%, I was in shock. Although I am no less appalled by these statistics, they are not so hard for me believe after spending just one week in Tupac Amaru.    

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