Quick Stats

Ecuador

**data in the graphs at the bottom are percentage values**

Sources:
UNICEF:
http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/ecuador_statistics.html#117
Education Policy and Data Center:
http://www.epdc.org/country/ecuador
The World Bank:
http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.PRM.UNER.FE/countries/1W?display=graph

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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?

Día Ocho: Ibarra

June 11, 2014

Yesterday, Kalina and I went running through the rural outskirts of Ibarra, past beautifully harvested fields that stretched out into the distant mountains. We came across an elderly man and woman sitting by the dirt path with their puppies. Of course, we had to stop and pet them. Claran Angelita, (60s), and her neighbor were campesinos, people who live from land passed down through multiple generations. In Ecuador, along with many other developing Latin American countries, campesinos tend to have limited monetary resources available to them. As we told the pair about our project on education, Claran graciously invited us to visit her the following day.

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Today, as we walked down a dirt path to Claran’s pink, concrete house, we were immediately greeted by a chorus of lively dogs, cats and guinea pigs; residents of her quaint farm. We found Claran working on her well-groomed field, where she happily paused her work to tell us more about the transformations she has seen. Claran spoke fondly of the current president, who has been known to care about the elderly more than any previous president, as though he was a neighbor who came back to regularly check on her well being.

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As someone with few economic resources, Claran noted she had no issues paying taxes. In fact, she and others like her would always pay, punctually and without a problem, whereas the rich with more land land would not find the process so convenient. Before the current tax system was established five years ago, the rich could get away without respecting the law. Comparatively, Claran had ended up paying even more taxes. Today, she is satisfied: Everyone pays their dues, and she is happy to see a rise in newly paved roads.

I listened to Claran describe a system from years ago that involved fake universities, bribed degrees, and a fraudulent tax system. Claran remembered a time where it was tolerable for students to simply sit at their desks with their uniforms on, without learning anything at all. I can only imagine the number of people who left high school or middle school without the appropriate tools and skills needed to have a well-paying job.

Into the Amazon

   Amazonia at Misahualli

 After a few hours of swerving past the rugged, mist-enveloped Andes mountains, we found our selves venturing into new territory: the Amazon rainforest. We were now set on investigating the education systems amongst schools in the surrounding rural and indigenous communities.

But first, we had to explore…

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Gliding down the Amazon River, one feels like a National Geographic explorer. Exotic birds chirp, baby monkeys cackle, large insects incessantly buzz, and vibrant flora rustle through the thick and humid air.

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Our days spent in the Amazon were underscored by sporadic rainfall, which often caught us right in the middle of shooting video footage in open school grounds. Through conversations with local residents and officials, we learned more about the intricacies of both the governmental and home-grown issues that were affecting these communities.

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Many local officials remarked upon problems of alcoholism and domestic violence in nearby Kichwa communities. Tourism also posed a problem, as at least in Misahualli, the very infrastructure and economy of the community depended on income from tourist expenditures. This was only catalyzed by the limited opportunities and educational resources available to local students. With that in mind, it felt paradoxical contributing to the encroachment of these very issues as day-by-day, we, our selves, participated in the tourist attractions, stepping off boats into various communities.

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In the mornings, we would start the day off with café and bolones at a restaurant by the river owned by an Afro-Ecuadorean lady with two handsome young sons. They were from Guayaquil, and had moved to Misahaulli in search of better work opportunities. And according to the woman, so far, so good. In the past the family had encountered some racism, but today, she said, things were improving. Her sons would start attending a nearby school very soon.

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One morning, Reva and I woke up to watch the sunrise across the Amazon river. Feeling intrepid from our early start to the day, we were surprised to see young school children arriving in boats to go to school in the mainland—just as the sun was rising.

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After a few days in Misahualli, I was surprised at how I was rapidly acclimating to the culinary lifestyle: fried plantains for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, yucca fritas as a side to Seco de Pollo or Tilapia, and a fresh fruit popsicle to snack on, my favorites being Mora and coconut. It was hard to leave, as locals of Misahualli are knowledgeable, pleasant, and ready to converse. Mr. Clark, our wise older hostel owner who walks with a cane had seen the education systems change before his eyes. And with a tourism infrastructure steadily on the rise, I am curious to see what the future in both education and culture will hold for this charming, sleepy Amazon town.

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Día Siete: Yachay

Before setting off to Yachay, we sat over breakfast chatting with our engaging host, Carlos. He was part of one of the first recent autonomous groups who had traveled to Guayaquil to survey and evaluate universities according to one of the new national regulations on education. These included close supervisions of education at every level throughout Ecuador. For universities, the government established an “A” to “D” grading system, since the university system in Ecuador had been broken for many years. I saw this these past few weeks, as I listened to stories of students paying bribes for their degrees, repeating as many years as they wanted, and other stories of poor selection processes and low retention rates.

Carlos found the universities in Guayaquil extremely resistant to change, which made the surveying process difficult for him: Universities hid information here and there to such an extent that he decided to drop out from the next round of evaluations. Universities, when evaluated with a “D” grade, were forced to close. Many of these corrupted universities had actually become businesses, as previously, a “university” could be classified as any small, random building in the city.

Keeping these thoughts in mind, we went on an official visit to Yachay, where, as a research and camera team, we were very well received. We were even provided with a personal tour by Alberto Peralta, the Director of Communications for Yachay. To me, the university looked like Stanford; reflecting its exquisite Spanish-style architecture, sunny weather, and surrounding immense mountains. Scheduled to be completed in 2017, the amount of planning and spending that has so far gone into building this free public university city is impressive. All of the professors (half from Ecuador and half from abroad) have PhDs, and almost all of the students come from public schools throughout most of the provinces in Ecuador. University officials understand the gap between Ecuador’s secondary education systems and the rigor of Yachay, so new students complete a 20 week leveling course in order to all be at the same level before beginning classes. And unlike most universities in Ecuador, students at Yachay will live in charming  on-campus houses, renovated from previous farms in the area.

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The campus is still very much under construction, but it is rapidly growing with a sense of urgency and size in both size and infrastructure. While only time will reveal how much of a success this university will become, it is wonderful to see the government’s prioritization of science and technology–especially in cutting-edge fields such as nanoscience, petrochemical, and energy, which Ecuador has previously not paid much attention to.

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From conversations with a couple of students, we learned that these new fields were what sparked interest and attracted many of the most accomplished students throughout Ecuador to Yachay. While the vision for this university may seem overly ambitious, who are we to say that Ecuador will not be able to accomplish it in due time? Developing countries in Latin American need more first-class universities that can attract some of the best minds in the world not only because they are plentiful with unique and valuable resources, but also because they will contribute to a long deserved social, political and economic progression.