Staying in school
It’s that time of year that parents and students alike are all focused on going back to school. In Oaxaca though the level of school drop-out is huge - only 23% of the population completes High School. In the US, it’s 92%.
There are many factors, in particular the cost of materials and transport. On top of that, many students find themselves struggling academically and thus losing confidence and motivation.
For the team at the Oaxaca Learning Center, supporting students to stay in school and thrive is a key objective.
Below Jaasiel Quero, Managing Director of the Learning Center, explains how they approach this task.
“It often happens that a very shy child arrives with us and over time begins to flourish. That journey’s the result of everything we offer. Of the environment, of us being interested, knowing how they are, what’s going on for them.
We don’t see him as one more student as in ‘we have 220 students’. Of course we count numbers because donors want to know how many people we are helping. But it’s about how we think about the students. We ask them how they are, what are they doing, what’s happened today.
We [the staff team] took courses in coaching, so we’re not saying to the students ‘do this’. We’re very clear that we don’t give advice. I can’t give you advice because I’m not in your shoes. I can empathise, but my approach is to say ‘What can you do? What do you want to do?”
Maybe if we had a different focus, if we were focused on business, on ways the students could make money, then education wouldn’t matter so much. But for us, education is very important.
The change you need
We believe that through education the young people can make a change. Of course talking about change is complicated because it raises the question What change? For us it’s whatever change you feel you need.
I always like to give this example. We’ve often had discussions about English, and in fact when they made changes to the education programs in Mexico, they put English as a second language, at a very important level. And there was a lot of complaint from the communities, who said, ‘why prioritise English when our language is Zapotec?’. From the cultural perspective of course they’re right. But using English is fundamental. It’s a way of being closer to the other side, rather than isolating yourself.
It’s a tool you have and that you can use when it’s necessary. ‘Ah I want to learn English to go to the North and to work”. If that’s what you want, fine, but that’s not our intention. Our intention is that if you see a scholarship, for example, which requires you to speak English, then you don’t fall at the first hurdle.
It’s all about giving students the ability to choose. Not just to have a dream, but to have the tools to make it come real.
In terms of numbers, we know we can accommodate 200 students a month. And there’s no limit to what a student can do with us. If she wants to study 3 subjects, and her results are good, then she can take those three spaces. And if she wants to study English, then she can study English. And if she wants to take a workshop - then she can take the workshop.
Our workshops can often take 15 or 20 people - they’re designed to work with many. But with the tutoring, it’s almost personal. And that’s because we have a rule that you can’t mix students of different grades. Also, as the different schools organise their teaching differently - one may cover trigonometry at the beginning of the year, another not until the end - sometimes it’s difficult even to manage students at the same grade together.
So we give them individual attention, it’s an artisanal approach. We see that as a plus, as something special about the Center, but it does mean we can’t grow too much. It’s like Oaxaca! Oaxaca is very rich in its culture, traditions, languages, but we don’t have any industry. It’s both a strength and a weakness.
When I was a teacher they introduced the evaluation of teachers. So if the average grade of your students was 9, it meant you were a good teacher. What happened? The teachers just started to prepare the students for the exams, so that they could answer the questions of that exam.
But that’s not what we do. For us it’s more about their development - what did you learn in your workshop about gender? How do you apply it? ‘Ah well, sometimes it’s difficult, but maybe if in my house they make a joke about gender or something, I make a comment about it’.
We want people to be leaders, or agents of change. This doesn’t mean you have to have followers - you can be a leader in your family, in your community. This is where change begins.