The Education system in this country is corrupt. I know that this shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering that this is Guatemala, after all. It’s by no accident that two percent of the population live in mansions while the rest of the country (read: the Mayan indigenous population) live under the International poverty line. But I’m still surprised by it anyway.
When I first started teaching, I was told that the reason I have to make the children complete every single grammar exercise in their workbooks was that it’s more important to give the “appearance of learning” rather than ensure that they actually learn anything. Those were my boss’s exact words. I kid you not.
“But those books are far too advanced,” I argued. “How are they supposed to write a book report on ‘The Mule and the Hare’ when they can barely identify a donkey or a rabbit?” They’re six-years-old. They barely know enough English to ask permission to go the restroom, let alone read and understand the words ‘shall’ and ‘pleasant’ (two words that appear in the first two sentences of the book).
“Just write the answers on the board and have them copy them into their workbooks.” As in cheating.
“Think of it more as a listening exercise,” she suggested.
“Well…yeah. Okay. But that’ll take up most of my class time. I won’t have any time to teach them anything useful. Don’t you think it would be better if we ordered books that were more at their level? And not written with a native English-speaking fifth grader in mind?
“These books were cheaper,” she said with a ‘that’s that’ shrug. “And the parents like the idea that their children are advanced.”
Only their children aren’t. Advanced, I mean. Most of my students would be flunking out of English class if this school was a real school…with real expectations of it’s students gaining something resembling a real education. But because the school’s main focus is appearance and ensuring that their wealthy students keep paying, the whole thing is a sham.
I’m required to let students re-take tests and re-do homework over and over again until they pass, for example. Which means that due-dates or even grades are completely meaningless. And the students know it. None of my high school students do their homework or study for their tests. They can barely be bothered to show up. And when they do show up, most of my class time is wasted continually repeating “Take out your notebooks please and copy down the homework assignment. What did I just say? Take out your notebooks! Write this down!” But they’re too busy sleeping, text-messaging or gossiping to listen.
Yesterday a teacher interrupted my class to inform me that she’d found one of my students hiding in a closet. In the chemistry lab. In any other school in any other country, the student would have gotten a detention for that. Or possibly even a suspension. But there isn’t a punishment system at this school, so nothing happened. No detention. No demerit. No chat with the vice principle. Nada.
They’re only 15, though. And far too busy trying to appear cool and indifferent to their friends, to be bothered to show even the slightest interest in a class that most of them won’t need. Because they won’t need to pass English class to get into a University here. They won’t really need to pass much of anything. Their parents are wealthy enough to be able to afford to send their children to private universities. And although the public universities are extremely competitive and difficult to get into, the private ones basically admit anyone rich enough to foot the expensive bill. And these students know this. Their parents know this. And all of the teachers know this. Hence the reason why there’s zero motivation across the board to provide these children with anything beyond the basics.
But I can’t exactly blame the school either. They’re up against a centuries old belief that “I have money and that’s all that matters” mentality. It’s a part of of the Guatemalan culture. And until that changes, there isn’t much the school can do. They could hand out all the detentions they want, but if the parents refuse to have their children stay late after school (as was what happened in the past), then what can they do?
Today I asked one of my students why she never came back to class after the break.
“I was in the bathroom,” she replied glaring at me.
“You were in the bathroom for 40 minutes?” I questioned, refusing to let her off the hook.
“Yeah…I was talking with my friends.” She hadn’t even bothered to lie or pretend that she’d been sick. Apparently finished with the conversation, she turned towards the door.
“Well, I’m going to write a note to your parents,” I called after her, naming the one weapon I had in my arsenal. Notes to parents are about the only discipline method the school allows us to use.
“Yeah, okay. Great. So?” She rolled her eyes and then sauntered out of the classroom.
The students don’t care because their parents don’t care and their parents don’t care because the entire education system in this country is completely, hopelessly, infuriatingly corrupt.
Remind me again what I’m doing here?