Saturday, April 27, 2013

Education alternatives and more

In many ways, the public education system here is a mess. Though there are primary schools and kindergartens in most rural villages, the teachers are often paid late – if at all. School supplies are inadequate. Some teachers’ positions are politicized; you need to belong to the correct political party in order to get a steady job.

Education beyond sixth grade is difficult to get. A study of a few years ago noted that only 33% of those who could go past sixth grade continue studying – and some don’t even go that far. In the parish of Dulce Nombre – 4 municipalities, more than 40 villages, and about 40,000 inhabitants – there are only four what we’d call middle schools; one of them has no budget to hire teachers and so the mayor’s office is paying. And in the whole parish there is only one high school.

To provide opportunities for young people a distance-learning, education by radio program has operated in the parish for years. The sisters in Dulce Nombre have run the Maestro en Casa for years and there have been a few other centers for the program. This year there are now eight centers which serve several hundred students.

At the suggestion of the previous pastor of Dulce Nombre, St. Thomas Aquinas raised money for partial scholarships for students this year. 105 students are being helped. Some of them would not have signed up to syudy if there had not been this financial support.

Today, Saturday, I decided to visit a few centers to see how things were going.

I first stopped in Dulce Nombre at the center run by the Oblates of Divine Love. Sunday there are classes for about 75 students in what we’d call middle school and high school. Saturday is for primary school classes, where the students can do two years study in one year.

Grades 5-6, Dulce Nombre Maestro en Casa class

Then I went to the new program in San Juan.

I didn’t know where the classes were being held and so I stopped by the primary school which was open. I was surprised to see two classrooms full of kids on a Saturday morning. They often have classes there on Saturday, in addition to the five weekdays, one teacher told me. That surprised and delighted me. Here were teachers willing to work more than mandated to help their students. 

Fourth to sixth grades in San Juan's primary school - with one teacher.

I finally found the Maestro en Casa program, which is small. There are classes for seventh and eighth grades. I watched as the seventh graders (which included a man in his thirties!) read about astronomy and astrology. With the teacher’s direction, they had an interesting discussion which include sharing about when one should plant certain crops. I shared the tradition to plant potatoes on Good Friday and the adult man shared how he plants beans on June 12 or 13, around the feast of St. Anthony of Padua.

Seventh grade Maestro en Casa class in San Juan

Even though the class meets only once a week in San Juan, there seems to be a lot of attention to the students, something I don’t always see here.

Afterwards I went to El Prado de la Cruz, about half an hour from San Juan. There I met the teacher in charge, who is also the village’s primary school teacher. He is – rightly – proud of the program. He has recruited eight other persons to give classes. I met three of them – one is a teacher in a nearby village, another is studying at the Teachers’ College in Santa Rosa, and the woman teaching when I arrived has a university degree in computers. His initiative in seeking others to teach really impressed me. 

Class in El Prado

After the visits, I went back to Dulce Nombre to discuss some details with the secretary. I arrived just at two couples emerged from their wedding Mass. I knew one couple, José, a catechist from El Zapote and his wife (whose name I cannot remember). I took pictures and will make copies for both couples, since there was no one there to take their wedding photos. (I'll print out copies to give them.)

José, his wife, and their padrinos

After I spoke a little with Padre German. He asked whether we can find some funding for a project to set up three small greenhouses on the parish grounds to grow tomatoes, green peppers, and some other crops. He wants to get people from the local area to take responsibility for the project which will benefit them as well as the parish. We’ll work on costs and I’ll contact  friend who has three or four large greenhouses in Intibucá where he raises a lot of tomatoes and strawberries.

I also mentioned to him my concern for the health needs of two people involved in the pastoral work of the parish. Fernando’s seventeen year old son has a spur on his foot that local doctors don’t seem to be able to treat. He walks with a cane but really wants to be able to work in the fields (as well as finish his education). Olvidio’s daughter has a displaced kneecap. Surgery to correct this would cost about $4,000, something well beyond his means.

And so as I rejoice in the great work being done in some of the Maestro en Casa centers and in the marriages, the difficulties of life – especially in terms of health – persist.

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