Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ecuador's President on Education

In a March 31 press conference, Ecuadorian President Rafeal Correa said, “There will not be development without education.

Correa is one of the most respected and well-liked Ecaudorian presidents of recent times, especially among the poorer population.  Correa was not born into a particularly wealthy family and as a child, he also had to overcome his situation in order to rise to the position of power and influence he holds today.  One of his major initiatives has been to improve the education system in Ecuador.  In his March 31 press conference televised on all public channels in Ecuador, he spoke of a plan to create incentives such as paying a minimum salary for those university students who choose to study education in order to become teachers.  He believes that this is the most important major one can choose.  He remarked that often times good students who are looking for quick money choose to study medicine for financial reasons, but he stresses that these elite students are the ones that Ecuador needs in teaching positions.  With the elite teaching its citizens, Correa and the Ministry of Education believe that their country can progress and develop.

Another interesting fact that Correa noted: According to university entrance exams – there is no difference in the aptitude of students coming from rich and poor families.  Sometimes there is a difference in knowledge if more economically fortunate students have had more access to resources, but in aptitude rich and poor students alike scored the same.  He believes there is hope for all to succeed, to help Ecuador and to help themselves break the cycle of poverty.

Source: Televised March 31 press conference

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The struggle to obtain a registration spot.

Guayaquil has never heard of school districts. Not only must all students – at both public and private schools – pay to take public transportation to and from school every day, but these high schools could be 1.5-2 hours away from their homes! Most high schools are located in the center of the city. What does this mean for students like those with whom Starfish works who live in the peripheries of the city? High transportation costs, and long commutes.

Another effect of no school districting – you’re not guaranteed a spot anywhere. March 15 marked the first official day for signs up for the 2012 school year that begins April 2. Meet Lili, the 15 year old sister of two Starfish scholars – Pamela and Arelisa.  
Lili and Pamela recently finished the equivalent of 9th grade at a school that only goes through 9th grade. This means they have to start at a new school. As if starting new wasn’t hard enough, it was 11 days before the start of classes and they still didn’t know where they would study or if they would even be accepted anywhere. Tuesday, March 20 Lili woke up at 4am to be at one high school by 6am. Luckily, she was one of the first 10 people in line, because even waking up at dawn sometimes does not guarantee you a good spot. Once arriving at the school, all were forced to wait until a representative of the school informs the crowd of how the process would be. After a few hours, Lili was informed that the director would arrive at 6pm. She considered this lucky since sometimes people must camp out overnight in order to just get a spot in line to possibly sign up at a high school. After a few hours Lili’s older sister came to help her ask the right questions – what documents would be required, what time would she have to be there, etc. Luckily Lili was able to secure her spot in line and leave to get lunch. When she returned around 4pm she waited until the director finally arrived at 6:30pm. The director took note of everyone’s names and phone numbers and said – “Don’t call – we’ll call you”. The following week they were going to do a random drawing to pick the names of the students who would be given spots to study in the school. Those who were selected would receive a call the following Tuesday, March 27.

Lili and Pamela were in limbo. There was a possibility that only one, or neither of them would be selected in this random drawing, so in the meantime while both of her parents are at work, Lili had to look for other high schools that were accepting new students this year. Even after waiting all day and following all the regulations, she was still not guaranteed a spot and wouldn’t know for another week which is 6 days before classes were originally scheduled to start on April 2.

Update: Lili and Pamela never received a phone call, but in the meantime were able to enroll at a smaller high school closer to their house. It is not very well known, but they are hopeful that they will receive a good education at this new school. Their first day of school is tomorrow!

Note: Entering in the equivalent of U.S. 7th grade and U.S. 10th grade are the hardest to secure a spot since many schools go through 6th or 9th grade and afterward their students must switch schools. This is the first year that you only have to sign up if you are switching schools. Before this year, a process similar to that which Lili is in the middle of was necessary for ALL students, EVERY YEAR, regardless of whether they changed schools or not.

Read more about changing education laws in Guayaquil.

--Jenn Zocco, The Starfish Foundation In-Country Representative

Arelisa and Pamela!

Lily (blue polo) taking the lead in a game with friends.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The task of purchasing uniforms in Guayaquil

Remember how all students in Ecuador, even at public schools, must buy 2 or 3 costly uniforms?  Try figuring out where, and how to buy them at a fair price when the entire city is trying to do the same thing.  I had the opportunity to accompany Paola, mom of two of our Starfish scholars – Maria and Steve, on her trip to the center of the city to try to get uniforms.  

Paola, Maria and some of the other Bravo children.

We left that day with a complete uniform for one, with the hope of buying the other the coming week.  At one store, we bought pants and Paola was able to get us a $0.50 discount.  Next we found a shoe store where we were able to get a discount for buying both the regular shoes and physical education shoes at the same time.  Next we found socks.  Later we found a lady walking around on the sidewalk selling belts for $1.  We left the hardest part for the end.  For the biggest and most famous high schools in the city, finding shirts was easy.  However, Steve is going to a high school in Guasmo that isn’t as well known.  We went to several vendors before we found one man who was willing to go look for us.  After about a half an hour he finally came back with the shirt we needed and the physical education uniform specific to the high school that completed our set.  With Paola’s expertise, we spent about 2.5 hours and $62 to complete Steve’s uniform for this coming school year! 

Read more about uniform and school supplies demand and prices:

--Jenn Zocco, The Starfish Foundation In-Country Representative

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Rainy Season "wow"s ... and woes.

Meeting all of the families in Guasmo and Flor de Bastion, whether or not we had space to accept them in our program for this year, was definitely a highlight of my time so far working for Starfish. Each family was so unique and each had their own story to tell – of how they came to live where they live, and the challenges they have in providing for their families. All of our scholars come from families living with very little economic resources. Many families told stories of past years. “We didn’t know how we were going to do it, but we knew we had to provide for our children’s education.” “We did raffles in our neighborhood to be able to afford the four books our daughter needed.”

Out of all the visits, there is one house visit that I will surely never forget for two main reasons. The first reason – the story. William does not have any contact with his mom or dad, and lives alone with his elderly grandmother in a donated house made out of sugar cane. Before re-marrying William’s mom came to live with him and his grandmother for about a year, but when she left she did not take William with her and since then they have not seen each other. William is 15 years old and works when he can to pay for his school supplies, but the legal age to work in Ecuador is 18 so it is often hard to find work. While interviewing his grandmother, several times she began to cry and hold me because it was so difficult to answer the same questions I had asked all the rest of the families because sometimes she had no answer. “If no one works, where does the money come from for food or other necessities?” “ –Sometimes my daughter helps.” Imagine that. 

William and his grandmother during the initial house visit.

The second reason I will never forget this visit? – the RAIN! While at William’s house, the interview became harder when it started to rain so hard I could no longer hear the grandmother who was sitting right next to me. She was kind enough to let us wait out the rain in her house and then give me a plastic bag to make sure all my forms didn’t get wet on the walk back to Mi Cometa.

Check out all the rain! This was during one of the many rainy house visits Jenn went on.

In Ecuador, rainy season lasts from about December – May without stop. This year the rains have been worse than usual and many areas are flooded. You can’t walk around without boots up to your knees in some of the poorest sectors. Water enters houses even in nicer sectors. Kids play in the dirty street water and get sick. Schools are forced to delay sign-ups and start dates because of flooding. It rains everyday, for many hours, and harder than any rain I’ve ever seen in the United States. Read more about how the rain is affecting the opening of schools and daily life in Guayaquil here.

--Jenn Zocco, The Starfish Foundation In-Country Representative