Bolivia Launches Communications Satellite to Bring Education to Rural Areas

Bolivia is proposing unique solutions to the disparity in education access between its urban and rural populations. Late last year President Evo Morales introduced the launch of Bolivia’s first telecommunications satellite, the Tupac Katari. The satellite was launched in order to ensure access to mobile phones for the entire country—but it may have a different use as well. Bolivia plans to use the satellite to broadcast classes taught in La Paz to students in the outlying areas of the country.

School band in Coroico. Had an annoying habit of practising loudly early in the morning.Bolivia suffers from some of the lowest school enrollments in all of the Caribbean and Latin America, with a 2011 gross primary school enrollment of 94.5 per cent, compared to an average 112.9 per cent elsewhere in the region. The satellite aims to combat these numbers, as well as a lack of infrastructure that prohibits many students in rural areas from having access to education. The satellite is another step in Bolivia’s efforts to modernize their education, infrastructure and medicine. The Tupac Katari will become operational in April of this year.

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Cuban Government Provides Medical Education Free of Charge

018Cuba spends nearly 13% of its annual GDP ($9.3 billion) on education, which is a greater amount than any other country in Latin America. The government uses this money to provide free education to all students of all ages. This approach to education has enabled students from around the world to attend medical school free of charge at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).

Training approximately 13,000 students each year for 14 years, this program has graduated more than 17,000 foreign students from 70 countries with a medical degree. The majority of these students come from countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.

“The basic objective [is] having them return to their home countries and work with the most disadvantaged people…Our students often go work in places where local doctors do not want to go, and their scientific and technical level is recognized around the world” explained Heidi Soca, co-director of ELAM.

Most of these students come from low-income families and never would have had the opportunity to study medicine without the free education being offered by Cuba’s ELAM.

According to Merady Gomez, an 18 year-old medical student from Honduras, “Studying medicine was my life’s dream. But for a poor family like mine, that was impossible…Here, I am making my dream come true, and I have high hopes of being able to help my country. This program is a blessing.”

Although all education has traditionally been free in Cuba, recent economic difficulties have made it increasingly difficult for the Cuban government to subsidize all levels of education. To ensure that international students can continue to study medicine free of tuition, Cuba has entered into bilateral agreements with several countries that are willing to assume some of the costs of sending their students to medical school.

The free education provided at ELAM is part of the public healthcare system offered in Cuba. The Cuban government continues to place both education and healthcare among its highest priorities. As a result, Cuba boasts a primary health system that ranks as one of the most effective in the world, offering free and universal healthcare to all. To, each year more than 20,000 people from around the world traveling to Cuba yearly in search of medical treatment. These medical tourists largely come from Europe, Latin America and Canada.

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Indigenous Boys from Oaxaca Overcome Obstacles to Win Basketball Tournament

basketball hoopPlaying barefoot, a team of Trique Indian boys became champions of the 2013 International Festival of Mini-Basketball, a youth basketball tournament that took place in Cόrdoba, Argentina. More than 900 children attended as part of 60 competing teams that came from eight Latin American countries including: Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Although the Trique team provided the players with shoes, most were more comfortable playing barefoot after having grown up unable to afford footwear. These children have overcome significant hardships to get to this point, surviving poverty, hunger, and the absence of parents who have migrated out of Mexico in search of work.

Their coach, former professional Mexican-league player Sergio Zuñiga said “these kids are invisible in Mexico. They grow up eating one, maybe two meals a day…We are trying to bring them out of the shadows.”

These boys come from Oaxaca’s Academy of Indigenous Basketball where they take part in a program that began three years ago. In exchange for the valuable opportunities this program provides through basketball, the boys are expected to stay in school and maintain good grades, contribute to their family’s home by doing chores, and speak their native language.

Using the promise of participation in basketball, coach Zuñiga hopes to keep children attending school so that they may have the opportunity to finish high school and ideally go on to college. This combined with the skills gained through  the cooperative team environment of basketball helps prepare these children to do more than live dependent on government support and sharecropping.

These children come from Oaxaca, the second poorest state in all of Mexico with 76% of the population living in extreme poverty and lacking access to basic needs like water, food, healthcare and education. This region, home to 33% of Mexico’s indigenous population, has also experienced conflict for nearly a decade due to these difficult living conditions and the social inequalities they represent. Under such difficult circumstance, basketball offers these children more than just recreation, it gives them hope of a better future.

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Benefits of Spanish-English Bilingual Education for Children

Proclamation Ceremony

In lieu of the United States’s Hispanic Heritage Month and the cutback of many dual-language programs in Florida, California, and Texas, VOXXI, independent journal for Hispanic America, explored the affects of bilingual education on children. 

Nate Cornish, the Director of Clinical Services for Bilingual Therapies, supports the application of bilingual education and said to VOXXI, “we’re finding from an educator’s perspective, kids who are in more of immersion type bilingual programs tend to catch up to their English speaking peers, and at the same time they seem to have greater access to the curriculum because they’re receiving instruction in their native language while they’re learning English.”

Cornish’s studies also revealed that bilingual education promotes a sense of pride and positive self-image in students as Spanish speakers. Additionally, dual-language education supports family life by encouraging and maintaining the native language. Cornish explained “I’ve had tearful conversations with parents who are saying, ‘I’m losing my ability to communicate with my child, what do I do?’ That’s kind of a hard thing to address. There are a lot of social pressures involved in that none of us can really control.”

Sarah Roseberry Lytle, Translation, Outreach, and Education Director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, said bilingual-focused curriculum increases brain activity and flexibility as related to memory and symbolic reasoning. “Solving math problems is a great example of one way to employ your flexibility thinking skills because you have to think about different ways you might solve a problem, in the same way if you’re growing up in a bilingual household you need to think of different words. If you can’t activate a word in one language, you need to think of a different way to describe the word,” explained Lytle.

According to international school YCIS, bilingual students also have a deeper understanding of linguistics, tend to think be creative thinkers and problem solvers, and “academically outperform and score statistically higher on standardized college entrance exams than those who only speak one language.” Consequently,YCIS asserts that bilingual education provides the potential for students to become bi-cultural members of a globalizing world. 

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Brazilian Territory Bans All Toy Guns

UntitledBrazil’s Federal District will ban all toy and replica guns in an effort to reduce the country’s violent crime and promote a culture of peace.

Valeria de Velasco, minister for the protection of victims of violence in the state government, explains, “it is in search of a new culture, one of non-violence, that has to come from our children. It is a work of transformation and of cultural transformation. Toy guns don’t kill, but they symbolize an attitude.”

Beginning in 2014, any shop selling toy or replica guns will face a fee of 5,000 – 100,000 real (2,245 – 44,907 USD) and will be closed for thirty days or lose their trading license. The Brazilian territory, which includes the capital city Brasilia, will be the first region in Latin America to enforce the ban.

Out of Brazil’s population of 200 million, 43,000 violent deaths were recorded last year; 73% of these from firearms. Within the past two months, five cases of entire families being murdered were reported. Additionally, the Brazilian Centre for Latin-American Studies reports that Brazil’s homicide rate rose from 24.8 per 100,000 inhabitants in 1996 to 27.1 per 100,000 in 2011.

11 schools in Ceilandia, the most violent city within Brazil’s Federal District, were first to pilot the campaign. Students were encouraged to create anti-violence designs and trade toy guns for books; 502 toy weapons were traded during the campaign. De Celasco said “this intervention enforced the importance of this law, how children assimilate new concepts and adopt them as theirs. Children are going to take this discussion to schools, to their families and to the community in general.”

Parents are reportedly highly supportive of the initiative. Neido do Nascimento, mother of three children in Ceilandia said “I think it’s marvelous. This law should have been made before. We lost a lot of time. We lost a lot of lives.”

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Recent FAO Study Presents the Benefits of School Feeding Programs

Children of the Sao FelixA recent study conducted by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) presents the benefits of school feeding programs in Latin America.

Entitled A Panorama of School Feeding and the Possibilities for Direct Purchases from Family Farming—Case Studies in Eight Countries (Spanish only), the study reports on the effects on children’s well-being, social protection, food security, and local development as the result of school feeding programs. Additionally, such programs were proven to have increased school attendance and improved the academic performance of students. Moreover, the eight countries—Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru— in which the study was undertaken expressed interest in having local family farmers as food suppliers to encourage the local economy.

“This is a triple-win approach: it secures quality food for students of public schools, promotes consumption of fresh and healthy food, and opens new markets and the possibility of higher incomes for family farmers while boosting local development,” said the Director-General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva.

Various programs examined by the study include about 18 million students of different ages and educational levels. The combined budget comprises approximately US$940 million which equates to an investment of US$25 per student annually.

According to the study, the regional governments’ commitment to school feeding programs has grown, but an adequate legal and regulatory framework to smoothly regulate local food supply to government networks are still needed.

“The study shows that tackling the challenges of school feeding programs requires the involvement of various actors, including governments, parliamentarians, international organizations, private sector, the educational community, and civil society,” noted Najla Veloso, coordinator of FAO’s regional work in Latin America.

This study was supported by the Brazil-FAO International Cooperation Program, which aims to help countries achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

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Mexico’s Teachers Protest Education Overhaul

School Friends

Mexico’s teachers are protesting a federal proposal to overhaul Mexico’s education system. Their protests are causing chaos in Mexico City and are forcing the state and federal governments to reconsider the bill.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s decision to focus on educational reforms stems from his desire to build up the Mexican middle class. Currently, Mexico is ranked last in standardized test scores in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD. Additionally, there is extreme corruption present in the school system: teachers buy, sell, and inherit their positions; additionally, removing poorly performing teachers is very difficult, even amongst allegations of sexual and substance abuse. The union system in Mexico is very strong and also full of corruption. This year, Elba Esther Gordillo, the leader of the large National Education Worker’s Syndicate, or SNTE, was arrested and failed on embezzlement charges.

In light of these events, Nieto and the Secretary of Education have proposed a bill that requires more frequent evaluation, stricter employment practices, and better mechanisms for firing poorly performing teachers.

The teachers protesting these reforms argue that these reforms are a disguise to begin privatizing the Mexican school system. Floriberto Alejo, a 50-year-old teacher from Oaxaca state, who came to Mexico City to protest, said that this overhaul attacks a teacher’s seniority, and “this evaluation is disguise to start firing…peers.” He believes that making the evaluations–which will now take place every four years–more difficult will fire many public school teachers and force parents to move to private schools.

The protests have been led by two nationals teachers’ unions, the National Education Syndicate (SNTE) and the National Educational Workers’ Union (CNTE), and are taking place in Mexico City. Around 20,000 strikers are blocking the main roads in Mexico City, and 4,000 have blocked the main roads to the international airport. They plan to cease their march only when lawmakers agreed to sit down with union representatives to negotiate.

The protests have shut down 24,000 schools in five impoverished states across southern Mexico. School was scheduled to start the week of August 20th; however, two millions students have not returned to school because their teachers are striking.

The teachers also believe that the proposals only attack the teachers and not the real problem: the long-term inadequacy of budgets and extreme corruption in the school systems.

The President claims that the teachers are misunderstanding the proposal. He says, “The education reform will give them opportunities that they don’t have today. The reform benefits Mexico’s teachers because it is designed to give them job stability, clear rules and certainty for ascending within the national education system.”

However, there has been no direct confrontation from either the President or the Mexican Secretary of Education. Edna Jaimie, director of México Evalúa, believes that both the state and federal governments are choosing not to heighten the conflict.

Lawmakers have removed the provision that creates an evaluation requirement from the bill in response to the protests. Many believe that this will make the law ineffective and undo the progress made by the bill.

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Higher Education Opportunities Increase for Latin American Students

Students in a technical education program

In a highly publicized forum bringing together regional leaders from Latin America, the group gathered to discuss issues on youth to commemorate World Youth Day. At this event, the Deputy Minister of Planning of Ecuador, Ana Maria Larrea, noted that “about 200 million people, one-third of Latin America’s population are young” and urged governments to ‘capitalize’ the current ‘demographic’ in the region with ‘specific policies targeting youth.’

With the demand for higher education opportunities, the cost of tuition remains an issue for many young people in Latin American.  As students are seeking affordable opportunities to pursue higher education, a proliferation of options has appeared on the scene.  In a publication titled, “Latin America’s New Knowledge Economy: Higher Education, Government, and International Collaboration” released early this year, leading scholars from Latin America explore education’s role “in advanced workforce development, trends in academic mobility and outcomes for brain circulation, and investment in the region by U.S. universities and corporations.” Countries outside Latin America are eager to fill in the gap.  The International Student Network (ISN) announced in July that top U.S. colleges are seeking eligible students from Latin America to matriculate in many different fields of study, especially STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) coursework, to fill voids in recent enrollment declines at their institutions of higher learning.

In Costa Rica, public university students that pass admission tests receive their education at a substantially lower cost despite government provided subsidies for private university students.  Government issued scholarships for working-class families in need, as well as incentives for targeted areas of study–such as STEM courses–are available to encourage enrollment.   Increasing online education offers the opportunity to choose from a variety of courses and off-campus location to complete programs.

With more demand by students and potential employers for a trained workforce,  technical and trades schools are increasingly popular. The focus at these schools is to help students with what they need to know on how to get employed. Areas of high interest include:  research, medical technology, manufacturing, tourism, financial and computer technology.  However, students too eager to receive certification may be tempted to take shortcuts by paying more than the paper certificate is worth from sham agencies taking advantage of the current valuation of college degrees. Accreditation provides confidence that student certification will be transferable to other educational institutions and accepted towards graduation requirements.  Students and employers can be reassured that the vocational training skills are relevant and useful in the marketplace.

With the increase of options for Latin American students to pursue higher education, the competition to meet the demand may provide the right opportunities.
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Mexican Students Receive Textbooks “Riddled” With Errors

Study timeAs children and teachers in Mexico began the new school year on August 19th, they discovered that their government-provided textbooks contained over a hundred errors. 235 million primary school textbooks have been found to contain misspellings, grammatical mistakes, and at least one instance of incorrect geographical data: a city located in the wrong state.

The textbook scandal is being called an embarrassment for the Mexican government, amidst recent teacher protests and other criticisms of the Mexican school system.

Education Secretary Emilio Chuayffet called the mistake-laden textbooks “unforgivable,” but says the errors were discovered this summer only after the books had begun to be printed. Chuayffet says he made the choice to continue printing them in order to ensure students would have textbooks for the start of their classes.

Education officials promised to give teachers a list of the 117 errors that have been found so far, so that they can correct them manually. Still, many teachers and parents are unhappy.

Mexico’s National Commission of Free Textbooks, responsible for the error-filled books, told the newspaper Milenio that freelance editors, who are paid less that $250 a month, are to blame for the mistakes.

Mexico’s education system has dealt with several crises in recent years. Reports of overburdened teachers, a stale curriculum, and a lack of funds have been publicized. Though the country spends more of its budget on education than any other OECD nation, standardized test scores remain the lowest out of all 34 OECD states, and only 47% of Mexican children graduate high school.

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Haiti’s Ministry of National Education Works to Strengthen Pre-School Education

MINUSTAH Peacekeepers Distribute School Supplies to Children

Last week, Haiti’s Ministry of National Educational and Vocational Training held a workshop to create strategies to strengthen pre-school, basic, and secondary education in Haiti. These strategies will implement Information Technology and Communication for Education (ICTE), supported by UNESCO.

The workshop attracted government officials, national and international educational experts, UNESCO officials, and civil society members. At the event, there were a number of panels, including a session entitled, “21st Century Education and Preparation of Human Capital,” which listed a dismal set of statistics:

“There are an estimated 16,080 primary and 3,277 secondary schools in Haiti, of which 85% are non-public and managed by communities, religious organizations, for-profit companies or NGOs. The enrollment rate for primary school is 67%, and fewer than 30% reach 6th grade. Secondary school enrolment is at 20% of eligible-age children. An estimated 70% of primary school teachers have no formal training; 400 new teachers certified each year, versus a need for over 2000 teachers annually.”

Mrs. Irvika Francis, Unit Coordinator of the ICTE, noted that the ICTE had identified three ways of strengthening Haiti’s educational system: information management of the education sector; access to and quality of teaching and learning; and strengthening and increasing involvement of stakeholders in the system. These strategies will hopefully lead to more modern and sustainable educational practices in Haiti.

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