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Educational Reform in Galapagos

It became quite evident that the Galapagueño teachers we met were quite interested in bringing educational reform to the islands. For them educational reform meant having a say in the curriculum, the objectives and strategies they would use in their classrooms. During colonial times the decision directly affecting the political, economic an educational life of Ecuador was done back in Europe.  Today, political and educational offices in mainland Ecuador are the official bodies that dictate the objectives, curriculum, materials and practices for Galapagueño educators. Just like in colonial times, the decision making process excluded Galapagueño educators. Galapagueño teachers united and brought educational reform to Galapagos because they feel that it is imperative that teachers must have a voice and a degree of autonomy in running Galapagueño schools. In many conversations I had with Galapagueño teachers I intimately understood the value they placed on this basic premise, namely that teachers must have a voice in determining the objectives, strategies and instructional curriculum for Galapagos schools. For them, it is a prerequisite to give Galapagueño youth the skill set needed to be contributing members to their society. 

To reflect the realities of their own lifes, Galapagueño teachers want to reform their schools so environmental studies and life skills relevant in their community are integrated into their instructional curriculum. At the Colegio Nacional Galapagos, for instance, Gandy Guerrero a music teacher at this school writes and records traditional Galapagueño with his students. The Colegio Nacional Galapagos has a student run restaurant that prepares and serves Galapagueño cuisine that many find superior to internationally famous restaurants in Galapagos.

Galapagueño teachers feel that due to the natural wonder that Galapagos is for the world, environmental studies and conservation must be supported across the curriculum. They feel that all Galapagueños must support this objective as it is part of their patrimony. The presentations the Galapagueño teachers gave at the Colegio Nacional Galapagos gave expression to this commitment. Their lesson plans, and the way they integrate their beliefs and convictions in their curriculum made me appreciate the strength and level of commitment Galapagueño educators have for the youth that will be future stewards for these islands. 

I met Byron Fernandez, a teacher and President of the Galapagos teacher union, at the Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts & Sciences, GAIAS. He was a presenter in a workshop offered by the Galapagos Board of Education titled “Educational Reform in Galapagos”. Topics included the need for autonomy and the lack of resources for teaching. It was in an informal conversation I had later with Byron, I was assigned to teach in his school, that my eyes were opened. Most teachers in Galapagos are afuereños. In fact, seventy five percent of all Galapagueños are afuereños!  An afuereño is an Ecuadorian with a one year work permit to work in Galapagos. The permit is renewable provided the person leaves to the mainland at the end of the year to reapply for a new permit. Why are there so many afuereños? The answer is very simple. They all come in search for a better life. They come under the illusion that a booming multi million dollar tourist industry will provide them the economic opportunities they lack in the mainland. 

The realities for afuereños and native Galapagueños, of course, are very different. The four monopolies that control the tourism industry do not leave any of the profits in the Islands. Instead, high end tourism is a one way cruising industry that takes all profits outside Galapagos according to a study from the Darwin research center. At the end of the lively discussion on educational reform, I asked Alba Moreno, the Director of the Board of Education. How much money of the tourism industry is reinvested in the Galapagos schools? Her answer was simple. “It is zero dollars with zero cents”. In a school system with seventy five percent afuereño population, the Province of Galapagos pays 100% of the tab to build schools to accommodate the influx of afuereños attracted by this booming tourism. The owners of these four high end monopolies take the profits out of Galapagos and as they depart they drop the waste from their high tech cruising ships to be recycled at a Galapagos plant. This is what eco- tourism is in Galapagos today, little or none of the profits go back to build the local community.


Instituto Superior Technologico Alejandro von Humboldt
During my stay in Galapagos, I was assigned to teach a Web Design class to high school students at the von Humboldt School, the prime technology school for the whole Galapagos province.  Presently I teach at a technology school, the John D. O’ Bryant School of Mathematics and Science.  How does technology compared in these two schools? During my visit I learned that the von Humboldt computer lab was built in 1998.  The main complaint from Byron Fernandez, the computer teacher at the von Humboldt, was that the lab is ill equipped and somewhat obsolete.  Moreover, in Galapagos teachers are expected to purchase the software that will be used by the students.  Needles to say this includes purchasing software for 75 % of the afuereño students brought in by the high end tourist industry that contributes zero dollars to his school.

How does this compare to Boston?  In Boston, computer teachers are not required to purchase software for our computers.  The mother Theresa argument is not so deep here though most teachers buy instructional materials for their classes. Byron was a bit surprised, however, when I informed him that in the Boston, the Athens of education, the O’ Bryant, I had a computer lab built in 1991.  Moreover, 33% of the lab failed to meet wiring standards.  Unlike Byron, I was not surprised at all that a technology school from a fairly poor province from Ecuador, had better technology than the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, a technology school in Boston.  Why?  Inner city schools and low-income communities do not get the same resources the more affluent communities across our nation can afford to get. Moreover in Boston we have FOC, the educational reform of 2001 to make this disparity possible.


Educational Reform in Boston: Why FOC fails our students?
In Boston, Focus on Children, is an educational reform plan concocted by Superintendents Payzant and Contompasis, the Court St. architects of this educational policy.  Since the big national clamor for standardized testing became popular, Boston public school have adopted FOC as a strategic tool to deal with this instructional issue.  What this means is that our schools now spend an inordinate time teaching and testing students using the material needed to pass standardized tests. To achieve this objective or focus, we have eliminated the teaching of music, arts, languages, physical education, life skills and other electives.  Whereas the classical Greek notion is that education is meant to teach the whole child, the Boston model of reform is a single minded, linear approach that focuses instruction only on areas for which we have standardized tests.  In practical terms this also means that while suburban kids living in a wealthy district get choice in terms of course selection, inner-city kids in Boston get FOC. 

As a parent with three children in the BPS, FOC reminds me of a time when ketchup was defined as a vegetable, a necessary ingredient that provided a healthy well balanced meal for low-income students in our nation. FOC is exactly the same meal applied to education.  Put this in real social terms and this means that suburban kids living in a wealthy district get choice in terms of course selection, inner-city kids in Boston get FOC.  Affluent communities can afford to teach the whole child, low-income communities get nothing but standardized tests. Is FOC, with its limited resources and narrow focus, all that our students are entitled to?  Or is FOC, perhaps, basically good for the business community that brought us FOC in the first place?  If it is true as we shall see, that we have the same resources affluent communities have, why are inner-city children in Boston getting second class resources while affluent communities get access to first class resources?

What is under the hood of Educational Reform in Boston?
In a property based democracy like ours, one can say that affluent districts like Wellesley do much better in terms of test scores because such districts collect larger revenues from property taxes. Affluent communities get higher scores in standardized testing and higher success ratio because they have a property base to pay for such success.  Poor communities do not have access to such property tax, therefore their students will get lower test scores and fewer admission to the top colleges. Additionally, affluent communities can teach to the whole child, offer all kinds of electives and therefore their students will be better prepared for college. What can be more American than that, many will say?  You want the best, pay for it!

The fact is that Boston has incredible wealth in terms of its property base. We are much richer than many of our surrounding wealthy communities in terms of our property tax base.  If that is the case, why do our students get FOC? How much revenue from the Boston tax base is allocated to pay for the education of Boston Public school?   Boston is a leading national and international center for education and medicine.  Individuals from all over the world come to our city to use these resources few other communities have.  Here are a few city records from Fiscal year 2009:

  1. The tax-exempt property owned by the educational institutions was valued at $7.0 billion, which, if taxable, would have generated $190.2 million in property taxes. Instead they paid 8.7 million or 4.6% of what they would pay if taxable.
  2. Tax-exempt property owned by the medical institutions was valued at $5.7 billion, which, if taxable, would have generated $154.8 million in property taxes they paid $5.8 million or 3.8% of what they would pay if taxable.
  3. Valued at $2.1 billion, Boston University has the largest amount of tax exempt property among universities, followed by Harvard ($1.5 billion) and Northeastern ($1.35 billion)
  4. Valued at $1.46 billion, Massachusetts General has the largest amount of tax exempt property among hospitals, followed by Beth Israel ($823 million) and Brigham and Women’s ($816 million).

As an owner of a three family house in the Jones Hill section of Dorchester, I would lose my house if I failed to pay my taxes.  In contrast if I am a university in Boston my failure to pay property taxes in Boston increases my chances of having more money to buy more property in Boston which brings more FOC to our schools.  Why are these two corporate industries entitled to welfare handouts while students in the Boston Public School get FOC?  Why do we continue to say that we need to apply a business model to improve teaching and education in Boston?  It is precisely this model fueled by a system of welfare hand out to universities and hospitals that presently robs inner city kids in Boston from getting the first class educational resources other affluent communities get.

We need meaningful educational reform now and this means that universities and hospitals must start to pay property taxes like the rest of us.  Until that issue is addressed, the legacy of inequities and institutional racism, fueled by failure to invest in our schools will continue to be part of daily life in every single Boston Public School.   As a parent with three children in the Boston Public schools, as a teacher and a tax payer I feel that when it comes to crime, refusal of universities and hospitals to pay property taxes is the most pernicious form of crime we have here in Boston. As a city resident it is not street crime that worries me. Given the racial and heritage composition of our student body, schools will never be agents of democratic ideals if we continue with this duplicitous and hypocritical model of doing business as usual.

Images from Galapagos

During my stay in Galapagos, I was able to visit three schools:

  1. The Alexander von Humboldt School, the technology school at Santa Cruz.
  2. The San Francisco de Asis, a public school with religious instruction.
  3. The Runakunapak Pachay. a multicultural and multilingual school,

While we were at the multilingual school I noticed the poverty in this school, first room I entered had a dirt floor, and its incredible wealth. The wealth was quite evident in the open arms reception we got from the school community. The kids performed a coastal and an andean dance for the US teachers. At one point in the dance kids got us from our chairs and we danced under the mid day hot equatorial thereby becoming part of this celebration. To the right is Daniel Masaquiza Mazaquiza, a teacher from this school that extended the invitation. This image was taken on the day we returned from the cruise and he finally got to see his students.

Below are a few of the people images I took while visiting Galapagos:

  1. Galapagos Schools
  2. Teachers
  3. Fiesta Time