By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, January 2019
FOR MANY YEARS, AASA has conducted its international seminar to provide our members with the opportunity to see education up close and personal in countries across the world. I first participated in the seminar in 1998, the year that I was president of AASA, when we went to Cuba. Traveling to Cuba then was quite different than traveling there now, but our group still had an amazing experience.
Since becoming AASA executive director 10 years ago, I have had the opportunity to travel extensively with our members. This past October, the international seminar took the group to Ecuador, with a side visit to the Galapagos Islands. Compulsory education there begins at age 6, although pre-school and infant care programs are available in select private and public schools. The secondary program goes from ages 12 to 18 and encompasses the equivalent of our middle school and high school.
Postsecondary technical schools are similar to our community colleges, and four-year university programs lead to a bachelor’s degree. Fewer than 20 percent of high school graduates attend college, with the majority attending public universities, and some 20 percent attending private schools.
Our first visit was to the American International School in Quito. I have the honor of serving on the advisory board to the Office of Overseas Schools, a section within the U.S. Department of State whose mission is “to promote quality educational opportunities at the elementary and secondary level for dependents of American citizens carrying out programs and interests of the U.S. government abroad.” My experience always has been that these schools are among the best in the countries we visit. Although they must comply with the rules and regulations of the host country, they tend to follow “American educational principles and methods employed in the United States.”
The International School in Quito was no exception to the rule. It is an outstanding institution providing the highest-quality education to the students it serves. At capacity serving more than 800 students, the school has a waiting list even though tuition runs $18,000 a year. The student population has an international flavor with 58 percent being international, 42 percent Ecuadorian and 22 percent North American.
We next visited the Vigotsky School in Riobamba, also a private school serving more than 1,000 students from age 3 through high school. Their base is mostly middle-class, charging a tuition of $77 per month. They tend to follow the American Productivity and Quality Center standards and focus on English instruction. Indeed, one of the high school classes we visited demonstrated proficiency in English, sounding just like American high schoolers.
Our first visit to a public school was the Milenio School in Guano. This school also offers pre-K to high school in a facility that is only five years old and brought together students from seven smaller schools in the community. The school’s population is predominantly poor indigenous children. Holguer Paucar, the school’s director, expressed pride in the facilities, which include athletic fields, science labs, language labs and libraries.
The milenio schools in Ecuador were the brainchild of the nation’s previous president who sought to provide quality education facilities for the poor. The Guano school has become the focal point for a community that takes advantage of the facility to stage community events. It epitomizes the community school model we foster here in the U.S.
Paucar, however, shared his deep concern that although students benefit significantly from an improved environment, the quality of the curriculum and the high level of instruction that should accompany such a beautiful school are seriously lacking.
In the Galapagos, members of our seminar contingent visited the Carlos Darwin School, a K-7 facility with 75 students and seven educators. The school has a so-named “institutional leader” who doubles as a 6th-grade teacher. Darwin and other schools on the islands are small, poorly equipped and suffering from a weak teacher base. Isolation is a major factor in limited teacher training and professional development.
Equity is a major concern in the countries we have visited over the years. In Ecuador, we saw exceptional schools and quality education for those able to afford it. But for the poor, even when the government stepped in to build a beautiful facility, the quality of the curriculum and instruction was not up to par.