If there’s one thing World Teachers’ Day highlights in 2012, it’s the need for more primary school teachers if the planet is to achieve Education for All. According to the United Nations, “new figures indicate that two million new teaching positions will be needed in order to meet the goal of universal primary education by 2015.
True. But it’s not just quantity. It’s quality.
Take Guatemala. Throughout the country, especially in indigenous communities, most teachers lack the necessary training to create true literacy among children. Adding more teachers to the equation would certainly cut the student-teacher ratio, but it would do little to improve the situation: Guatemala has the highest illiteracy rate in all of Latin America, and most indigenous children fail to develop the reading and critical thinking skills they need in order to get a decent job, or continue with school beyond sixth grade.
“More and more kids are making it to sixth grade because it’s now the law in Guatemala,” says Child Aid’s Country Director, John van Keppel, “but they leave without knowing how to read well. Then they can’t get any kind of work beyond menial, seasonal, underpaid work that barely puts food on the table. And few indigenous kids continue to seventh grade.”
To improve the odds that children will learn to read well, become truly literate, Child Aid focuses on training. We work with hundreds of teachers in over 50 villages throughout the indigenous Central Highlands, helping them become qualified, confident, engaging teachers.
“It’s not just a teacher shortage that’s the problem,” says Sam Hendricks, Child Aid’s Executive Director, “It’s the lack of training, books and resources.”
Teachers in Guatemala, Hendricks says, get frustrated when it comes to teaching reading. Most start school with only the equivalent of a high school diploma, and few have any practical know-how of ways to engage children in books. “After working with Child Aid,” he says, “Teachers are finally able to get their students reading – and reading with enthusiasm. The teachers themselves are thrilled to learn skills that actually get results.”
Child Aid’s Reading for Life program focuses on training – in addition to book delivery and library programs – because it empowers local people to affect long term change in their own communities. Training teachers addresses illiteracy at its root – inside the village classroom.
“We’d certainly like to see more teachers in the this world,” Hendricks says, “But that’s not our mission. Our goal is to turn all those dedicated teachers that are already out there, struggling to teach in remote, forgotten villages, into better teachers. By helping them succeed, and by giving them the materials and resources they need, we improve educational opportunity for thousands of children.”