Just a normal Colombian school

This afternoon we took the opportunity to visit a ‘normal’ Colombian school where our host father teaches. It’s a government primary school in a nearby suburb. We were introduced to the teachers and spent some time observing in preschool and first grade.

The question of whether our kids would be better in a mainstream school is often on our mind. We worry about the limitations of our expertise as volunteers. But, to be honest, we came away feeling pretty good about what we offer.

We were a pretty interesting novelty in the school. Here the first graders show Fiona their reading.
We were a pretty interesting novelty in the school. Here the first graders show Fiona their reading.

On a very basic level the classes aren’t all that different from at home. There’s about thirty kids, sitting at desks or in groups all oriented towards a great big whiteboard. But there are big differences:

  • The walls are blank, and the whole place looks a little bleak. Preschool had a little more colour, but not technicolour like Mariposas.
  • Interestingly the same teacher takes one class through grades one to five. Jackpot if you’ve got a good one, but it can’t be much fun if you and your teacher don’t get on.
  • The predominant activity in class is copying. The preschoolers had letters stamped into books which they were tracing over. Other grades were copying text or problems from the board. We worry about the effectiveness of such a passive learning style for kids like hedgehog and fantail.
  • Worryingly, the preschoolers couldn’t really articulate what they were copying. They’d have pages of ms in their books but couldn’t identify the letter.
  • We didn’t see teachers standing in front of classes and explaining things. In preschool, while the students traced their letters, the teacher spent her time stamping more exercises into homework books. In first grade the teacher spent a few minutes with each student and their nacho book while the rest of the class ran amok.
  • Actually, while we really struggle keeping kids on task at Mariposas the classes we saw were crazier again. Kids running around, leaving class as they pleased and making a bunch of noise.
  • Kids said that teachers hit themwith rulers as punishment. Apparently that’s common throughout Colombia.

Classic copying activity in preschool.
Classic copying activity in preschool.

All this is really interesting in the context of our project to get a qualified Spanish speaking teacher into Mariposas. Our intention is to make it clear that applications are open to Colombian teachers as well as those from abroad. We’re open minded about all candidates, but we’ll want to make sure they share the educational attitudes that Mariposas embodies.

5 thoughts on “Just a normal Colombian school

  1. I found a very similar thing at the school I taught at in Nepal many years ago. The kids in my classes could all spell and recite the numbers one-ten (“o-n-e, one, t-w-o, two, t-h-r-e-e, three) but if you asked them to spell three they couldn’t. They had to start at one, because they had not been taught to understand the meaning what they were doing.
    I’m sure you and Fiona are doing a great job, and good luck getting a qualified teacher to Mariposas!

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