(apologize for the delay, internet connection has been inconsistent)
Last night, after a three-hour drive from Quito, we arrived at a quiet Hosteria in the lovely town of Ibarra. The town is surrounded by some of the most majestic mountains I have ever seen. We started off the day which included some bed-and-breakfast style coffee, fresh fruit and delicious homemade bread, while chatting with Carlos, the owner of the hotel. We ate overlooking a beautiful view of many trees, hummingbirds and a waterfall in the distance.
While we chatted with Carlos, who studied engineering at Berkeley, he mentioned his skepticism about the Yachay project: he believed some of the vast government funds being spent in Yachay could be better used on existing universities which are in dire need of resources. Yet, he was extremely optimistic about the overall direction of the education reform and happy that for once, people have hope. He told us how before President Correa, there were absolutely no standards. Keeping this in mind, we headed off to our first stop of the day at Yachay, the City of Knowledge.
Yachay, meaning “knowledge” in the local indigenous language kichwa, is an impressive government project: a technological city and university being built from scratch. Well, almost- it’s on the vast, green lands of an old sugar cane plantation where many of the university buildings are restored plantation houses or stables. Its aim is technological innovation in research and learning using human talent and impressive technology.
As we drove around the campus, we noted the high number of security guards protecting the materials being used for construction. We observed posters advertising Yachay, with white men and women as the students and indigenous or black people as workers selling food. This really struck us as an image perpetuating negative racial-socioeconomic divides.
We headed to the nearby pueblo of Urcuqui where we stopped in the peaceful town square to interview young students in public school uniform. Many students were out and about between the morning and evening school shifts. As we asked young students where they wanted to study when they grew up, many faces lit up with the answer “Yachay”.
When we walked into the local public school, the director warmly welcomed us: he gave us a short interview and showed us around the school. While we were disappointed in the infrastructure, he told us Yachay was assisting them with funds. Recently the number of students in their school has increased significantly, but the government is planning on moving them to an entirely new and larger building within five years. We were impressed by the curriculum, which included mechanics and indigenous dances. Tomorrow, we will have our official tour of Yachay and see what the city is projected to be.