Saturday, February 02, 2013

Education efforts

School starts next week.

Education in Honduras is a mess.

Some teachers work months, without being paid. I recently heard of a new teacher who worked for two years and never got paid. He went to the US to try to earn some money.

Then there are some teachers who hardly work, arriving on Tuesday and leaving Thursday. But they get their salaries.

I have also read of teachers with two or three teaching positions which they get paid for - although they don't teach in any of the schools where they have their plazas - tenured positions.

I know that some years the teachers have gone on strike and the students suffer. Sometimes the strikes are because the teachers haven't been paid; sometimes because they are opposed to new education policy proposals; sometimes because they are against other policies of the government.

But then there are the good teachers - who spend their own money for supplies, who stay overtime and work with the kids who need help, who really encourage their students to learn.

But then there are the schools.

In Honduras education is mandatory up to the sixth grade, but I often run across young people who haven't gone past second or third grade.

Also, for a number of reasons only about one-third of those who could go past sixth grade.


The price is one reason. Today I spoke with a pastoral worker who is sending a child to high school in Santa Rosa. It's a public school, but he's already spent about $250 for uniform, supplies, etc., and even though the child will live with relatives he will pay about $30 for housing and food each month. $550 for a year of high school is not cheap here.

Another reason is availability of schools.

About forty thousand people live in the four municipalities in the Dulce Nombre parish where I help. But there are only four public middle schools and one public high school. One of the middle schools does not have a paid teacher assigned, but the mayor has set aside public money for the salary.

And so what do the young people do?

Some go to school, walking or riding a bus to get there.

A few, if their families have some money or can scrape together some money, might go to a school in Santa Rosa or another town. These might be weekday or weekend classes. This means that there are extra expenses - travel, lodging, meals. This is not something many can afford.

Many don't go to school but join the family work force.

For a number of years in the parish of Dulce Nombre, some students have attended the weekend classes of  Maestro en Casa, a study-with-radio program. The students have work books; they listen to an hour long class each night on the radio; and they get together for about four hours each weekend to review the material and to get help for the more difficult subjects.

It doesn't sound like much, but it does offer an opportunity to young people; in fact, I know of a few professionals, some of whom now have university degrees, who studied with the program.

In the past few years the program has grown in the parish, much due to the initiative of Padre Efraín Romero, the former pastor.

In 2008 there were two programs, now there are six, and the mayor of Concepción, Copán, is trying to open two more this year.

The largest is in Dulce Nombre, run by the sisters who live there - the Oblates of Divine Love. It has had more than 300 student some years, though the number is down now that there are other sites. In the past some students walked, rode bikes, or sought other transportation to travel up to an hour or more from their homes just to get to Dulce Nombre.

But still, even though registration and fees are fairly low, there are students who have difficulty getting the money together. And then there are the travel expenses each week.

But there are students and parents who take major efforts to see that their children get a middle school or high school education. I heard of a parent who borrowed $20 to pay for part of the fees for her son. An older student has been working in the coffee harvest to have money to sign up.

In light of this, Padre Efraín suggested to St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames, Iowa, that they provide some partial scholarships. A funding raising event last year enables us to offer scholarships. We will probably enable more than sixty students to begin to study or continue their education.

Since Padre Efraín was not around the parish much in January before his transfer and because Sor Pedrina, who had runt he program in Dulce Nombre, was transferred to Nicaragua, the details fell on me.

It's been a learning process, with a lot of ups and downs.

One center thought that all new students would get a scholarship. I ended up spending three hours last Tuesday trudging up and down hills in El Zapote visiting the families. It was a humbling experience, especially when I entered the first house. The floor was dirt; one daughter was white-washing the stove. The mother, pregnant with the fifth child was there with her husband and other children. The one daughter will be entering seventh grade and a fifteen year old son will be taking part in the third year of a primary school program that enables the student to finish six grades in three years. This family will obviously get a scholarship.

We did tell one family, though, that they weren't eligible. They have a truck, a satellite dish, and about five manzanas of  coffee.

Today, Saturday, I put over 50 miles on my truck visiting the sites of the program in Dulce Nombre, Prado de la Cruz, and El Zapote de Santa Rosa to make sure that worthy students would be able to attend classes.

Some of the scholarship recipients in El Zapote with their teacher, Melvin.

Sunday I'll head out to another site as well as meet with some of the students in Dulce Nombre. I'll report more on this tomorrow or Monday morning.

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