How Ecuador’s Public Education failed the Kichwa- Part 1

The Ecuadorean Amazonía has been one of the most colorfully unique environments I have ever set foot in. At any moment our crew might have been interrupted by spontaneous, heavy, rapid rainfall-that would quench the thirst of the luscious, green canopy surrounding us. The sleepy, small town we visited, Puerto Misahuallí, is one of the first stops on the Río Napo.

We traveled by boat to Comunidad San Pedro, a home to around 200 indigenous Kichwa. Just half an hour of gliding down the river in our canoe took us past numerous “comunidades ”. The furthest down the river, hours away by canoe, is home to the most isolated indigenous communities.

Our crew was well received by both our boat guide and the Comunidad’s own president, Carlos. The more we conversed, the more apparent San Pedro’s culture became. Carlos explained just how highly the Comunidad values working together, which results in everyone thriving. We asked Carlos about what educational opportunities members of his community had available to them. In most Ecuadorean high schools, students choose from a variety of specializations, which can range from chemistry to mechanics. According to Carlos, the local public high school, only offers Tourism and Business as specialties. By limiting their opportunities, these communities are trapped in an economic structure which is completely reliant on tourism. There is little liberty to choose a different path, because going to another high school includes unaffordable travel expenses, and would also force students to leave their communities. As most students do not continue to college, high school is crucial.

As a concerned parent, Carlos strongly believes the community could benefit from many other specializations, one being mechanics, so that members could have the background knowledge to fix their own canoes. This is the kind of systematic change the Kichwa communities and the like could benefit from. Because they only have training in tourism and business, the members of his community are tremendously reliant on outside tourists who visit as a source of income.

Listening to the issues Carlos shared with us concerning their local education system reminded me of topics such as mis-education, colonization and the democratic consciousness. I first read about these topics in Gary Okihiro’s Third World Studies class at Columbia University. One of our texts, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by the educator Paulo Freire, discusses democratic consciousness and explores the relationship between the “colonizers” and “colonized”.

Part of the idea of “democratic consciousness” is how people develop a critical consciousness, to decide for their own selves how they will think in order to create their own space. There is a relation to education, an issue discussed by historian Carter Woodson in his essay, The Miseducation of the Negro. To Woodson, education has been used as a means to promote a power relationship in communities that were once subject to colonial rule.

Historically, the communities’ underdevelopment and location generated their satellite polarization and as a result, they were unable to be self-reliant. To Woodson, this raised an ethical issue, where the lack of standard education extolled the success of the dominant group while keeping the other from succeeding.

From the few days we spent visiting schools in other cities, we saw noticeable differences in Puerto Misahuallí.Carlos told us how few members could afford to leave their communities to receive a higher education, and teachers were in a constant flux of leaving the local high school. The indigenous Kichwa did not have same caliber of education as other more populous cities in Ecuador.

Recently Puerto Misahuallí has become the most popular tourist stop in the Ecuadorean Amazonia. It has abundant potential; yet, it is run down, unpaved and lacks infrastructure. Where is all the prosperity going? While their local education could improve under current education reform with a brand new escuela del milenio, will this sufficiently address their issues?

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