Saturday, March 13, 2010

WorldTeach in the New York Times

There was an editorial piece in the New York Times which mentioned WorldTeach. It's pretty cool to see us mentioned in that context.

I have some more thoughts related to the article posted above. I'm gonna put it below the fold. I have an earlier post which I don't want to completely overshadow.  I'm still experimenting with having a blog and how I want to set it up, so please bear with me. Thank you for those who are reading this. I'm enjoying having a way to reflect on my experience while also letting people know how I am doing.

I generally will only use this blog for updates about my life and how I am doing here. However, I had some thoughts I wanted to get down and share, so here goes my first attempt at pulling back from the every day events to why I feel it is important for me to be here and why I would support the US government assisting similar programs.

I saw a common theme in the comments on the Nicholas Kristof article I linked to above. I'm aware that this post probably counts as nutpicking, (see nutpicking), but so many commenters mentioned how the US government should not send people to teach in other countries because of the issues in our own school systems.

While the reports that Utah may be getting rid of 12th grade are worrying, education is not a zero sum game. Yes, there are problems with our school systems (thankfully MC did not have closed circuit cameras when I was there nor does it now as far as I know). However, efforts to improve rural Costa Rican schools are valuable, just as improving inner city schools in the US is valuable. Efforts should be made to improve rural education in the US, as well as inner city teaching in Quito, Ecuador.

I disagree with the idea that as a society we should only work to improve our own society. I'm not saying that the US should definitely take Nicholas Kristof's idea. I have no idea whether sending teachers would help or if assisting countries to pay for their own teachers would be better. Maybe it makes the most sense to keep the money to increase financial aid so more people can leave college without crushing debt, therefore freeing them to do WorldTeach type programs. 

There is a false choice in saying we should be working to make improvements in education in the US and not try to help foreign countries. Yes, it would be better if the school here in Z-13 could have teachers with years of experience who were trained in teaching both English and science, but in the absence of that I am doing the best I can. Costa Rica improving its education in the long run will help the US, for instance if US companies can work with the medical technology companies in Costa Rica, thus lowering the price of medical services in the US.

If the US did decide to send teachers for a Teach for the World type of organization, of course the US should be careful not to impose its own style of teaching in ham-handed ways, but saying that something should be done with care is not the same as saying it should not be done at all. I am not here to tell Costa Rica how to teach its students. I'm here to explain to the students how the endocrine system works because that is what the curriculum asks me to. I work within the Costa Rican school system under the auspices of the Ministry of Education (MEP). I work directly with Costa Rican English teachers to improve all of our teaching and I do it as a member of the faculty at La Escuela Finca Z-13.

One of the reasons I chose WorldTeach was because WT works to ensure that its volunteers are placed in schools which need us, not schools which could hire a local English teacher. My school here in Z-13 is still waiting for a new Costa Rican English teacher and we've been in school for a month. The other volunteers are in rural areas and every year WT moves to more rural areas as the less rural areas hire their own teachers.

That's good, because those less rural areas can ideally have more experienced teachers while more rural areas receive English when they would not otherwise. In time maybe Costa Rica can move to a system like how Chile uses its WT volunteers, where the volunteers work within the classroom of Chilean teachers, assisting and providing a native speaker for the students to hear and imitate.

The US has a finite amount of resources at its disposable in which to try to do everything people want to be done, yet there are ways in which the US could do a lot of good without committing that much money. Examples abound of efforts which do not cost that much money making a big impact, from WorldTeach to Greg Mortenson building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The US can help without trying to tell countries how to educate their students. That is not a dig at the Peace Corps, rather the point is that there are times where good can be done by people who are willing to work within the local context without needing a lot of money. A little money can go a long way to allowing people to help.

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