After an hour plane ride, 10-minutes on a mototaxi, and two hours in a deslizador (motorboat), two of my co-workers and I had arrived at Nueva Betania, an indigenous Shipibo community of approximately 400 residents in the jungle of Ucayali, Peru. We were there to meet with teachers, students, and other community members and gather their perspectives on the impact of UNICEF’s Escuelas Amigas program.
Although UNICEF first developed and implemented Escuelas Amigas, or “Child-friendly Schools,” in Thailand in 1997, the framework was not introduced in Peru until 2012. During the three-year project cycle, UNICEF partnered with communities, government officials, and local educational ministries to establish Escuelas Amigas in five of the country’s 24 regions.
So what exactly is a “Child-friendly School”? Escuelas Amigas (EAs) take a holistic approach to promoting children’s rights to learning, health, protection, participation, and recreation. While I first became familiar with UNICEF’s “child-friendly schools” framework in Dr. GK’s Curriculum and Pedagogy course, my internship has provided me with a much deeper understanding of how this program has been adapted for local contexts. For example, many EAs in Peru are also Intercultural Bilingual Schools, meaning that fostering linguistically and culturally relevant educational experiences is an integral program component (for more detailed information about my work with Intercultural Bilingual Education (IBE) at UNICEF, check out my first and second blog posts).
The EA that my co-workers and I visited in Ucayali was a bilingual Shipibo-Spanish primary school. Given my work to develop an electronic inventory of IBE materials for UNICEF, I was curious to see which EA-IBE resources had been developed for/with Nueva Betania and how their use had (or hadn’t) continued after the project cycle (2012 – 2014).
Lining the walls of the multigrade classroom were student drawings depicting la cosmovisión Shipiba (Shipibo worldviews), shelves of Shipibo language primers from the Ministry of Education, and posters that promoted Shipibo identity expression as a right and a resource in students’ educational experiences. Through our observations of the classroom environment and initial discussions with teachers, we noted the school’s palpable commitment to the values of the EA-IBE program; however, as the class began, we started to observe the challenges that persisted for providing a culturally and linguistically relevant primary education in Nueva Betania.
Although the EA-IBE model promotes the gradual introduction of Spanish in the classroom beginning in upper primary grades (3rd – 5th), the framework encourages teachers to provide most, if not all, instruction in students’ mother tongue for lower grades. As the class began, however, the teacher notified us that, while she does employ Shipibo in the classroom, the lesson that day would be conducted in Spanish since the children were learning new vocabulary. As class began, we circulated the room to find that a number of the Shipibo primers and other mother tongue resources had not been used (at least, not recently).
When the students went to recess, we had the opportunity to talk to the primary school teachers about their experiences with the EA-IBE program. They told us that technical support from UNICEF and the Ministry of Education had helped them overcome many initial challenges, such as obtaining curricular materials and communicating the necessity of mother tongue language education to parents; however, teachers still had many concerns about student learning outcomes. They said that, even after the implementation of the EA program, many primary school students still struggled to develop strong writing and reading skills in Shipibo, which contributed to the sharp decline in students’ Shipibo literacy by the time they graduated secondary school. The teachers were also concerned that they still struggled to implement effective dual-language lesson planning and pedagogical practices for bilingual and biliterate learners. While the EA program had implemented a system of acompañamiento pedagógico (a teacher accompaniment model) to help teachers develop methods of promoting students’ rich bilingual and biliterate development, teachers felt that the lack of continued, consistent pedagogical support and other professional development opportunities were a contributing factor to low learning outcomes and the struggle to maintain the EA framework at the school. “The Ministry continues to send us new IBE materials each year,” one teacher told us, “but what we need are more opportunities to learn how to best use those materials.”
As we boarded the deslizador for our trip back to the city of Pucallpa, I wondered – How could professional development opportunities for the teachers at Nueva Betania be made more impactful, meaningful, and relevant? Given that the PELA (Strategic Program for Educational Achievement) is soon to restart pedagogical accompaniment in the community, how might this model be revised or reimagined based on teachers’ prior experiences during the EA program? And what role will teachers play in structuring the next pedagogical accompaniment model or other professional development opportunities they have in the future?
While our visit left me with more questions than answers about the progress and challenges of the EA-IBE program, I look forward to learning more about how UNICEF’s experiences with EAs and the pedagogical accompaniment model inform planning and practices for UNICEF Peru’s current work in secondary schools. Since the education team is also working with the Ministry of Education to incorporate IBE indicators into the nation’s educational monitoring system, I’m hoping that these meetings might also shed some light on the impact of IBE in Peru and the role that EAs/pedagogical accompaniment have played in those advancements.
In keeping with my second blog post, I’m wrapping this one up with some additions to the list of things I’ve been grateful for in Peru:
- Enjoying the sunshine and wildlife in the jungle of Ucayali.
- Taking a weekend trip to the lovely mountain town of Lunahuaná.
- Visiting a couple of schools in Lima (a preschool and a school for children with disabilities in Callao) and learning more about UNICEF’s work with early childhood and inclusive education initiatives.
- Finally riding in a mototaxi (this one has been on my bucket list for a while).
- Getting to see an amazing production of Billy Elliot in Spanish at the Teatro Peruano Japonés.
- Celebrating Peru’s Independence Day with my co-workers.
- Finding community (through dance, my workplace, my housemates – I’m lucky to be surrounded by some pretty wonderful humans).
¡Hasta la próxima!