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Independent Observation: Deborah Greebon

The following is a reference from Deborah Greebon, a former Fulbright Fellow who received a Master of International Education Policy degree from Harvard University. Between 2008 and 2009, Greebon conducted extensive research on Guatemala’s educational system and observed nonprofits working in the field of literacy and education in the country. She has no affiliation with Child Aid.


February 22, 2010

As a Fulbright fellow in Guatemala researching time use in primary school classrooms, I have spent many hours observing classes throughout the western highlands. Perhaps the most notable difference, in terms of instruction, between classrooms here and in countries like the United States, is the obvious dearth of reading instruction. In the best cases, reading classes consist of 10 to 15 minutes of independent reading and answering a few comprehension questions individually in writing. While the teacher usually does mark these answers as correct or incorrect, I have seen little evidence of teachers ever returning to a text to review it, analyze it, ask questions, or reinforce ideas. With this model of literacy instruction, it is no wonder that Guatemalan children learn so little in comparison to their American counterparts.

The Ministry of Education is unlikely to adequately address this issue in the near future, as in-service trainings are too brief and abstract to alter teacher behavior. At most, teachers receive 1 to 3 half-day trainings in a year, usually on topics unrelated to reading instruction. Because these trainings are done outside the school (to save money by training many at once), teachers are far less likely to transfer any new knowledge or techniques to the classroom.

Child Aid’s model is unique here for a number of reasons. First, Child Aid commits to schools long-term, which ensures that schools can become invested in the program and that teachers have plenty of exposure to new techniques. Second, they work directly in classrooms to show teachers how to apply new ideas with their own students, as opposed to just handing teachers a manual or textbook or explaining the technique in the abstract.

I have seen teachers in a Child Aid–sponsored school thrilled to put up sticker charts to promote student reading, an incentive technique virtually unheard of in most classrooms here. I have also seen teachers change their teaching style to mimic that of Child Aid reading instructors. While a lot of these ideas may seem elementary, here they are anything but.

Many teachers I have spoken with are confused about how to teach reading and desperately want to improve, but they do not know where to look for resources or help. Were these teachers aware of what Child Aid is doing in the country, it is probable that they would inundate the organization with petitions for help. I myself have recommended the organization to a number of schools with a desire to learn but a lack of opportunity.

Deborah Greebon
Fulbright Fellow Guatemala, 2008–2009
Master of International Education Policy, Harvard University

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