Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Written by Carolina Cardoza, Education Program Coordinator
A student from the San Jorge Preschool works on an art project focusing on letters of the alphabet (Photography by Emma Pion-Berlin).
From the United States to Guatemala
It’s October, and Guatemalan students are finishing out the 2018 school year. High school students in their last year are about to complete their 200 hours of internship with the hope to get a job after their course is complete. At the same time, school is in the United States has begun. Waking up, having breakfast, and getting on a school bus or getting a ride from parents to school is standard in the U.S. Waking up, going to school with no breakfast and with no lunch money, meaning students will stay hungry for the rest of the day, is very common in Guatemala. In rural Guatemala, walking to school for over an hour is normal. Despite the different struggles faced in education in the U.S. and Guatemala, we here at Mayan Families believe that education leads to more opportunities.
Private vs. Public
In the U.S. the main choices are to go to a private school, or public school and those differences are quite evident. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the United States, fifty million students enrolled in K-12 attend public schools and five million go to private schools. There are costs associated with a private education: parents pay tuition, or there are scholarships available. Public schools are government-funded, so students are only expected to pay personal costs such as school supplies and uniforms. In the U.S. even in public schools, students get meals throughout the day; either fully paid for or subsidized. For example, if students get to school before class, they get breakfast, a small snack and lunch.
The private and public education division in Guatemala is nonexistent; instead, it is a spectrum. There is no such thing as free education in Guatemala, as all schools require payments. Costs include providing uniforms, shoes, school supplies, enrollment fees, monthly tuition fees, additional projects, and graduation fees. The distribution of food in the U.S. is a luxury that in comparison to Guatemala, wherein both private or public schools, it is not as accessible. Students either bring their food or they will not receive any.
Instruction in Spanish
Through research from the National Center for Education Statistics, in fall of 2015, 9.5 percent of public school students in the U.S. were English Language Learners. Of those students, according to the U.S. Department of Education's EDFacts data collection, Spanish was the home language of 3.7 million students in 2015. Students who are English Language Learners can also be the first to attend school, meaning they have less support at home because their parents do not speak English. With less help at home, this creates barriers for many students in the U.S.
In Guatemala, these barriers can also exist. Students in Guatemala receive instruction in the public school system in Spanish, yet this is a second language for many of them. In Sololá, where Mayan Families works, there are many Mayan languages, principally Kaqchikel, and many parents do not speak Spanish. According to our data, in the rural indigenous communities where we work, 58 percent of our preschool students do not speak Spanish at home. Parents are unable to help their children with schoolwork because they do not know the language and additionally, most cannot read and write. Furthermore, students in high school also have to take a language as an elective course, making that three languages to tackle. Imagine that!
In rural Guatemala, many students miss school because their parents work in agriculture, spending their time in the fields, often having to take their children with them. Many families depend on agriculture as their source of income and work all year. When students have to help their parents with work, it causes many students to get behind in their education. In our program we sometimes see students dropping out because they need to work at an early age to help their family generate extra income. As students further their education, costs also increase, and this is another factor causing students to leave the education system. Students who stay in school often work and go to school simultaneously. Some parents recognize that education would have given them more opportunities and encourage their children to go to school while looking for different ways to support them. The education systems in the United States and Guatemala are vastly different but regardless, having an accessible bilingual education is crucial as children progress forward into higher levels of education.