2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage
VIVA CUENCA

VIVA CUENCA!

My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Monday, February 2, 2015

SCHOOLING OPTIONS FOR EXPAT PARENTS IN ECUADOR

Cuenca, Ecuador has been a retirement magnet for expats for the past five years. While the vast majority of expats moving to Cuenca are retirees, in the last year there is a greater movement of younger families, especially from the United States who are migrating to Cuenca. Questions arise as to what educational options are available for expat school-age youngsters in Ecuador and particularly in Cuenca. While my career background was in education, I am not an authority on education in Cuenca. Whatever I share is a starting point for further investigation to those parents who may wish to move to Cuenca, and wonder what options are available for  their youngsters’ education.

The Ecuadorian schools  are setup along similar elementary lines in the U.S. (K-6), but with a difference in the way Ecuadorians count their grades with kindergarten being counted as grade one, and therefore, grade 6 by American count is counted in Ecuador as grade 7. Grade 7 (6th in the U.S.) is the beginning of secondary school. The secondary schools are divided into two, three year programs. By American standards grade 12 in Ecuador would be grade 11 in the states, so a student graduating from an Ecuadorian high school has actually had one less year of schooling than in the United States. Also, if you ever hear an Ecuadorian young person tell you that they are attending a collegio, this does not mean that they are a college student. Rather collegio students are attending a college preparatory high school.

Photo of a Collegio in Cuenca
                            Photo of a Collegio in Cuenca

The quality of education varies tremendously in Ecuador and even in localized communities like Cuenca, which in this respect, is no different from the United States. Also like in the United States, if parents remove their children from one school to place them in another even within the same school system, there is generally not a standardize curriculum of pacing through instruction that provides uniformity in instruction. On the other hand, parents are not limited to a neighborhood school choice, and can choose a school anywhere in the city as long as the parent has a viable private or public transportation mode for their children. It is my understanding that a small majority of youngsters in Cuenca attend Catholic schools. There are also some private schools that offer secular programs. The third group of students attend public schools, which are free through the ninth grade. No matter what type of schools children in Ecuador attend, they almost always will be wearing school uniforms.

School Girls in Uniform
              School Girls in Uniform

English is mandated by federal law to be taught at least one hour per day. Some schools at the secondary level teach classes in English throughout the day. However, many of the teachers of English are poorly qualified. About two years ago, the federal law required that teachers of English had to pass a qualifying exam in English to keep their jobs. A number of teachers crammed through additional English lessons in preparation for the exams. I have no idea what standards of mastery were exhibited by teachers of English to pass the exam. There have been no reports of which I am cognizant about how many, if any, teachers of English actually lost their jobs, because of their failure to pass the English mastery test. I would assume very few to none. While the test may be a step in the right direction of improving the language ability of teachers of English, many teachers who passed at low levels while possibly demonstrating improvement from their level prior to their qualifying exam prep tests classes still would not be fluent and possibly even competent in the language. Therefore, I believe a parent needs to be very vigilant in seeking out quality English instruction for their children.

For expats with youngsters moving to Cuenca, I would suggest that you look into three schools mentioned in the link below. I personally have no idea what quality programs these schools offer. However, the link provides you with a starting point and a point of comparison. I would highly recommend that upon your arrival to Cuenca, that you not only talk with officials from the school, but also spend the day attending the classes of the age group of your child or children and see what is transpiring. Observation will be difficult, if you arrive in July or August, which are vacation months in Cuenca and the Andes communities in general. However, if you can observe your child’s likely classes, then you can determine to what degree instruction is actually taught in English, and to what degree the teacher is able to facilitate the English language so that your child can succeed in that classroom.

I have personally known two expats who were living in Cuenca for only a year, and had their teen sons attend two different local schools with good reputations, but where English was not taught throughout the school day. If English is not spoken and your children are not fluent in Spanish, the teachers will not give them the time of day. Your children, as was the case with these two boys, will lose valuable instructional time. One of these boys lost a year of schooling, in spite of sitting in class every day. The other boy, after a wasted semester of little if no idea of what was said in class, returned to the states without his father and lived with relatives so that he could continue with his education. One or two years of high school Spanish in the states are not sufficient preparation for Spanish immersion in an Ecuadorian high school.

If your child is at the kindergarten or first grade level, you may wish to consider enrolling your child in a Spanish-speaking school. Children at that age can quickly pickup Spanish both in the classroom and from the other children. Not only will it help your child to develop new neurological pathways to language skills, but also will make learning Spanish easier in a classroom-setting where reading skills are still basic. By fourth grade, the necessity for developed reading skills and vocabulary makes it difficult for foreign language students to catch up with their native language peers. Best to get your child’s language immersion started as early as possible. Along with being immersed in the Spanish language, such youngsters also are immersed in Spanish culture. Such an immersion would also be a very valuable experience to these children in many career opportunities as adults, as well as their ability to navigate through various cultures with ease and adaptability. Of course, expat parents will have to compensate their primary grade youngsters with English language reading skills in the home environment.

I have no statistics to offer you. Even Google has little to offer, since I assume Ecuador has not reached the level of statistical disaggregation of educational data as the U.S. It is my belief anecdotally that most expats with youngsters in Cuenca home- school their children. Either one or both parents assume the task and responsibilities, which is more difficult but not impossible at the high school level. Most parents likely use interactive programs available on the Internet to home school their children. These programs are much more expensive than private schools in Cuenca. However, especially with secondary students, where parents will not often closely supervise their child’s instructional time; you must know your child well enough as to whether you think your teen is motivated to be a self-starter and accomplish the instructional tasks at hand without close supervision.

Home-schooling of younger children requires commitment on the part of the parent(s). From my conversation over the years with parents who home-schooled, elementary youngsters can usually be taught in two to three hours per day. Home-schooling parents, unlike classroom teachers, don’t have to deal with all the classroom management responsibilities that have little to do with instruction that devour so much of the typical elementary teacher’s day. Parents also have the advantage of personalizing and focusing on just their child’s instruction.  Best of all for home-schooling parents, the government of Ecuador is very friendly to home- schooling, unlike a number of state departments of education in the United States which are down-right hostile to parents who home-school. For better or for worse, the Ecuadorian government at this time, provides next to no supervision over the instruction of home-schoolers.  Parents simply need to sign a document that they are home-schooling their children.

Sorry, but currently I do not personally know any expat parents who have youngsters in the Cuenca schools, nor do I know any parents who are presently homeschooling their children. Most of us retirees are obviously beyond this point of schooling consideration. Such parents, however, certainly would be a good source for potential expat parents as well. If any parents who are home-schooling here in Cuenca should contact me, with their permission, I will gladly post their email address on this post site, so that potential expat parents may contact them.

Here are three links which may be helpful to potential expat parents:

http://www.todayinecuador.com/noticias-ecuador/cuenca-expat-kids-face-the-challenge-of-adjustment-539448.html 

http://www.portaldelcolegio.com/colegios/colegios_cuenca.php 

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CCwQFjA 

http://cuencaexpat.blogspot.com/2014/02/schooling-in-ecuador.html

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