Dedication in Rural Education
Over the last two months, I have been travelling to small communities in the Cusco region of Peru for our (UNICEF) research project on intercultural bilingual schools. It has been a beautiful, educational, and humbling experience for me.
The goal of Intercultural Bilingual Education (IBE) is to ensure that students develop literacy skills in their first language (in this case Quechua) and value the culture of their community, while at the same time learning the national language and skills necessary for success in wider society. We have found a range of beliefs and practices around IBE, but I have also learned so much about rural education and the dedication it takes.
The last community we visited (in the province of Paruro) was deep in a beautiful mountain valley. It is over an hour by car to the nearest town, but nobody there has a car. The community itself is divided into four sections, including one at the bottom of the valley and one at the top of the mountain. The school is at the mid-way point and it takes the kids 1.5 and 2 hours respectively to walk there. But they do it every day. And they are happy to do it.
The kids do not complain about having to walk two hours to school. In fact, they don’t complain about school at all – they love it. They love to be with friends, they love learning new things, they love reading, singing, playing, and eating the food from the national school lunch program. School for them is not a boring place that they are forced to attend. They are fascinated by all that they learn and they appreciate the social space that the school creates. At home, they have many duties including helping their parents in the farm, pasturing animals, or preparing and cooking food. From a very young age, they actively participate in household chores which are, for the most part, their only extra-curricular activities.
In big city North America, we have so many options that it can be overwhelming to decide. A primary school student can pick between art, dance, sports, play dates, parks, children’s festivals, and so much more. For some kids, school is a drag, a space that takes them away from so many other possibilities. But for children in rural Peru (and I imagine other rural communities), school is the centre of social activity and a primary source for stimulation.
The schools are often ill-equipped, with sub-par infrastructure, and limited learning resources. But there are many dedicated teachers, who make so much out of the little that they have in order to ensure school is interesting for their students. Although in some cases teachers could arrange cars to take them back to bigger towns or cities after school, many choose to stay in the community. Particularly in IBE schools, they want to live together with the community, to learn from them, so that they will be better able to teach the community’s children. The conditions are not always great, but they are committed to their students.
The dedication of rural Peruvian teachers and students is truly humbling. It makes me reflect on all that we take for granted, all that we think we need, and how we measure success. I hope that I can hold on to this memory. When I am frustrated that something is not going my way or is taking too long, I will remember Miguelito – walking two hours to school every day.