Teachers Strike Delays Start of School Year in Argentina

Without a Care in the WorldIn response to recent inflation, teachers unions in Argentina demanded a pay increase of approximately 35% for their members. Without an agreement between unions and the government, teachers went on strike on March 5th, postponing the beginning of school for children in 19 of the country’s 24 districts.

“Because of the devaluation [in January] and inflation in December and January we have been left with a low salary,” explained Mario Almiron, head of the Sadop union which represents 75,000 private teachers.

Several provinces reached agreements with their teachers’ unions, granting raises of around 30% to all teachers. Yet students in many other provinces have been out of school for over a week.

In the Buenos Aires province, the most populated in the country, nearly 4 million children have been affected. Deputy Governor Gabriel Mariotto  acknowledged that teachers’ demands were “fair” but condemned the ongoing strike due to the impact it has had upon students.

After rejecting a government proposal for a 30.9% salary increase, union officials in Buenos Aires said they “will carry on with the struggle until they give us a reasonable offer.” Mira Petrocini, another union representative, explained “there was no negotiation here. The government came with a closed proposal. We have not been able to intervene in the decision regarding our salary.”

Unions have demanded salary increases in response to extreme levels of inflation in the country. With concerns for a potential currency crisis, the government began the year by devaluing the Argentine peso by approximately 20%. Private sector forecasters have predicted that this resulted in inflation around 30%.  The government has tried to control this by limiting salary increases and by imposing price controls.

“People have lived through so many inflationary processes that an escalation in prices is not just economic, but sociological,” explained Carlos Germano, a political analyst.

Talks between teachers’ unions and government officials have been difficult. National government negotiators initially offered salary increases of 22%, but were rejected. Government officials worry that agreeing to these demands would set a dangerous precedent for other salary negotiations scheduled with other unions in late March and April.  They worry that raises would place an extreme strain upon national and provincial budgets if teachers and other government employees were granted a 30 to 35% raise.

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Government Rehabilitation Program Helps Colombian Child Soldiers Heal

just too bad they stareFor nearly five decades, Colombians have endured violent conflict  between the government, left-wing guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries. As of 2012, more than 14,000 children were actively involved in this conflict, most of them recruited by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) leftist guerrilla groups. The Colombian government and several non-profit organizations have created rehabilitation programs to help former child combatants recover from their traumatic experiences.

With the beginning of peace negotiations earlier this year, Colombia has seen a 40% increase in the number of desertions and demobilizations. This increase has put additional pressure on the country to provide former child soldiers with recovery options. In order to recover and be reintegrated into society, these children require access to a range of services that include: psychosocial support, sexual and reproductive healthcare, family reunification or foster care, housing, education, vocational training and employment.

Rehabilitation programs help children to emotionally process the trauma they have experienced and teaches them empowerment skills that will help them rebuild their lives. One government run rehabilitation program has children spend several months living on a farm where they work with animals, cultivate plants, learn socialization skills and recuperate in a non-threatening environment.

After years as a child soldier, one 15 year-old boy explains “you feel so frustrated and ashamed when you are…struggling to learn the simple things that little kids learn easily in a few months. Everything goes so slowly, because you have never learned how to study.”

Most children join guerrilla groups out of necessity. Military groups coerce children into joining through threats or by offering money, food and adventure. Other children become soldiers because they have nowhere else to go due to problems at home and a lack of employment. Once recruited, these children work as messengers, guides, informants, watchmen, cooks and fighters. They are deprived of access to education and instead exposed to violence and life-threatening situations.

Acording to Carolina Maya, a psychologist at the rehabilitation center, “they were led to take up these weapons and uniforms not because they wanted to, but because there was no other option…These kids are neither victims nor murderers. People are not good or bad. This is just something that happens to them.”

Approximately 28% of these child soldiers in Colombia are girls. These girls frequently endure years of sexual assault and enslavement, resulting in high rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections; yet when these assaults result in a pregnancy, girls are forced to terminate the pregnancy.

Former child soldier Yineth Trujillo was recruited at the age of 12 and served with Farc for three years before demobilizing and going through rehabilitation. Having performed abortions on other girls, she explained “the women think that if they get pregnant, then they’re lucky and they will be free. They are mistaken. It doesn’t matter how long a women has been pregnant. It could be two or eight months. Either way, she will get an abortion.”

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Founder of Colombian Education Program Wins WISE Prize

Cartagena, ColombiaThe 2013 WISE Prize was given to Vicky Colbert in recognition of her work to educate underprivileged children in poor rural areas of Colombia. Using a hands-on approach to learning, the Escuela Nueva educational model has led to dramatic improvements in Colombia’s educational system. Since it was first introduced in rural Colombia in 1975, this model has been adapted to benefit more than 5 million children in 16 countries.

Colbert is a Colombian sociologist who co-founded the Escuela Nueva program in 1975 in collaboration with Beryl Levinger and Óscar Mogollόn. Initially, this educational model was developed to improve the quality of education provided in Colombia’s rural schools. These schools were plagued by high dropout and grade repetition rates, inadequate training of teachers, insufficient teaching supplies, and a lack of support from their communities.

To address these concerns, Escuela Nueva utilizes hands-on strategies to improve school curricula and classrooms, teacher training, relationships with communities, and management techniques. Students learn at their own pace by working on different modules in a small group setting. This approach teaches children learning, leadership, teamwork and decision-making skills that will benefit them later in life.

This model proved so effective in Colombia’s rural schools that the government chose to adopt it as national educational policy in 1980. As a result, rural schools regularly outperform urban schools throughout the country and Colombia’s primary education system has become one of the best in all of Latin America. With these dramatic results, Escuela Nueva gained international recognition even before the WISE Awards with praise from UNESCO, the World Bank and the Human Development Report issued by the United Nations.

Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, chairman of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), praised Vicky Colbert saying she “has dedicated her life to revitalising education…Her work has had a significant impact in Latin America and beyond, greatly expanding access to affordable quality education for the less-privileged.”

The Qatar Foundation established WISE in 2009 as a platform for discussing new approaches to education. The WISE Prize for Education has been awarded at the discretion of an international jury since 2011 in recognition of meaningful  contributions to education taking place internationally.

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Teacher’s Day Protests Crowd Brazilian Streets

Fotos produzidas pelo SenadoThousands of Brazilian citizens marched the streets of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janerio, demanding respect for teachers’s rights, free university education and improved conditions in state run schools. The demonstration was a part of a series of mass protests propelled by the country’s low wages, growing inflation, and inability of local and national governments to provide adequate health and education services.

The most recent protests on October 15th marked National Teacher’s Day. During the evening, approximately 2,000 people marched in Sao Paulo to remove Gov. Geraldo Alckman from office. Masked members from activist group Black Bloc joined the demonstrators and incited a violent backlash from local police authorities who used tear gas bombs and pepper spray.

Lucia Dores, 50 year old teacher in Sao Paulo said, “I’m fed up with corrupt politicians. I could write a book about all the things they’ve done.” Dores was also present at the protests and said “the police were throwing tear gas bombs for no reason. They just didn’t want people to keep moving forward. We had nowhere to run, nowhere to go. That’s why people went inside Tok & Stok . Someone saved me by giving me vinegar to get rid of the tear gas effects and then I ran out of there.”

In Rio de Janerio, about 4,000 protestors gathered in the city center in support of teachers who have been on strike for two months, requesting improved working conditions and a 37% pay increase. Similar to Sao Paulo, demonstrators and Black Bloc activists were met with police enforced tear gas and percussion grenades.

Student Karoline Santana explained “my school is abandoned, the principal does nothing and doesn’t want to do anything. Teachers have even lost faith, and those who arrive full of hope see quickly that the job of teaching doesn’t exist anymore. Even the older teachers demotivate the new ones.”

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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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Ecuador’s Indigenous Communities Approve Oil Drilling in Exchange for Education Funding

YasuniThe Ecuadorian Indigenous community, the Waorani, nestled inside the Yasuni National Park in the Amazonian jungle, will allow international oil companies to drill into their land in exchange for government and international funding for education, healthcare, and recognition of ancestral lands.

President Rafael Correa signed the agreement with 500 members of the Waorani community who were representing the 48 tribes that form the indigenous group.

The decision settled long running protests implicating the government in conspiracies with international companies in violation of the constitution and Ecuadorian citizens. Local and international organizations also stress that the decision will devastate one of Ecuador’s most biodiverse areas. In response, Mr Correa explained that the country is in desperate need for the difficult investment and stringent environmental regulations will underlie the drilling.

According to the agreement, international donors would contribute $3.6 billion to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for education, health care, and other social programs in exchange for drilling in the park. The oil extraction is expected to generate over $7 billion in revenue over a ten year period.

Biodiversity Commission of the Ecuadorian National Assembly approved a report announcing Yasuni a national interest. It will be voted on by Congress this September.

Leaders from the Waorani community spoke with the President prior to the decision and agreed on the necessity of the investment. Jofre Poma, mayor of Lago Agrio, said “we want development, we want progress. We need healthcare, quality of life, schools, roads, drinking water.”

Anita Rivas, mayor of The Coca, requested that educational facilities be built from the oil revenue and said, “We lack basic services. More than 70 thousand people have no water. Hopefully, now that the President is looking at the Amazon, these works are built for the community.”

According to UNICEF’s 2011 annual report and Ecuador’s Observatory for the Rights of Children and Adolescents (ODNA), 33% of indigenous youth ages 15-17 drop out of schools, compared to 24% of the national average. In 2009, indigenous children between the ages 5 and 17 were reported three times more likely to be involved in the labor market than Ecuadorian children of mixed descent. The report stresses that additional efforts need to be made by training bilingual teachers and implementing education models based in indigenous cultures. 

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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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Peru’s Ombudsman Encourages Bilingual Education for Indigenous Children

Ashaninka Children Watch the Ene RiverPeru’s Ombudsman (“Defensoria del Pueblo”) Eduardo Vega Luna, announced the release of a study assessing Peru’s efforts to provide education for indigenous children in their native tongue.

According to reports conducted by UNICEF in 2007 and 2010, Peru’s indigenous population is over four million; one million are children and adolescents. More than 12% of school-age Peruvian children speak indigenous languages as their first language, and in some regions the number rises to 62.82%. Mr. Vega Luna revealed that the Peruvian government currently dedicates less than 1% of their educational resources to intercultural and bilingual education.

Mr Vega Luna further explained, “The historical inclusion experienced by indigenous communities means that the state has to work harder to reduce the existing educational gaps, keeping in mind that 46% of children and adolescents from indigenous communities don’t receive education in their first language.”

Paul Martin, UNICEF representative in Peru, reported that those whose first language is Quechua, Aymara, or another Amazonian or Andean language, have considerably less access to social services and fewer opportunities for development. 78% of indigenous children (between ages 3 and 17) live in poverty, compared to the 40% of the population whose first language is Spanish. Additionally, 32% of indigenous children ages 3 to 5 attend pre-school, as compared to the 55% of their non-indigenous peers, while only 11% of the indigenous population between ages 18 and 20 have access to higher education.

According to Daniel Sanchez, the head of the Indigenous Peoples Program, one of the central obstacles facing Peru’s indigenous children is the shortage of teachers who speak in their native tongue. Sanchez asserts that additional efforts need to be made by the Peruvian government to provide intercultural and bilingual education for up and coming teachers.

Sanchez explained, “authorities are still hiring Spanish-speakers in posts where they really need a bilingual teacher. We need to make sure we’re using teachers who know the language and the culture of the indigenous community where they’re going to be working.”

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Teachers’ Strike in Paraguay Continues In Spite of Ministerial Order

22/365 Days - Empty Classroom

The four week long strike of Paraguayan teachers who have been demanding higher salaries continues despite the official rejection of their demands by the Ministry of Education. Teachers also continue to gather, in spite of an order to return to their schools.

The teachers announced that they will continue to strike because the salary cuts are a direct violation of the law. They also demand changes to the retirement law to strengthen pensions.

Due to the government’s rejection, Carlos Parodi, president of the Federation of Teachers of Paraguay (FEP), reported that the teachers’ determination is now stronger than before, and rejected the possibility of obeying the order to return to classrooms. He also noted that other groups of teachers plan to join the strike, leaving 90% of schools without classes.

Teachers plan to return to their schools next week only in order to explain to their parents and students why the strike will continue.

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Brazilian Oil Royalties To Be Spent on Education

Oil Drilling Platform in the Santa Barbara CA Channel

Last week Brazil passed the Oil Royalties Bill, deemed by President Dilma Rousseff to be a “historic victory.” The bill will go into effect next year, designating 75 percent of drilling royalties to education and the remaining 25 percent to health care.

As Brazil’s oil production expands, the country’s new oil fields alone could net between $150-$300 billion over the next 35 years. Within the next year the royalties are projected to be about $800 million.

Of the new law, President Rousseff said, “For me and my government, education is the principal pillar to transform Brazil into a great nation, assuring that our people are freed from poverty.”

Millions of Brazilians have been protesting over the summer to express their discontent with the government’s spending choices, particularly in regards to public services such as healthcare and education.

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