By Jessica Belmont y Valeria Pacheco
“To read is to travel in time.” This is one of the phrases that Yohanna, fourth grade teacher in the Dominican Republic, constantly repeats to her students. She knows that motivating them is key to improve their reading and writing skills. As a result, she implemented a class project called “The Traveler’s Book”, in which children borrow reading materials to take home. And what about math? She teaches them by playing and smiling, while she tells us: “With love, teaching is better.”
Improving the quality of education in the country has been a priority in recent years for the Ministry of Education, and even more when previous national tests showed poor results in reading, writing and math.
In the Dominican Republic the average of effective hours of class in public schools are 2.5 hours per day! And yes, I was just as astonished as you are now when I heard about it.
It turns out that due to overcrowded schools, there are too many students and little space and resources to meet their educational needs. Therefore, it is necessary to divide school hours in 3 shifts: morning, afternoon and evening. Only then schools can meet the high demands for education. This brings several complications: on one hand, it is difficult for schools to comply with the schedule and agenda; on the other, children and adolescents face environments that are not entirely appropriate or encouraging to study and many prefer to dropout.
Against this background, there was an urge in the country to restructure the education system in the medium-term and focus strongly on children and adolescents at risk. That’s how the Ten-Year Education Plan (2008-2018) began, including the participation of teachers like Yohanna. This plan entails a higher quality teacher training that involves a pedagogical model where teachers become guides or facilitators instead of the center of the teaching process. Thus, the school also focuses more on its work with students, promoting their active participation and, therefore, motivation.
The program also aims at expanding and creating new classroom facilities nationwide and at having more students in the same school through the implementation of the extended school day. The goal is to create 28,000 new classrooms in public schools for 2018.
Thanks to the extended school day, students enter at 8 am and leave at 4 pm. This allows them to accommodate other activities that are necessary to enhance the learning process. In fact, the program has created a better school equipment, so now many schools have science and computer labs and even libraries. As a complement, students now receive nutritionally balanced meals and snacks in schools, which also contributes to a better learning.
At secondary schools, we are working on developing technical-professional education, for students to receive workshops in sports, arts, electricity and robotics, among other activities that can help them prioritize how they envision their lives and what they want to study in the future to make a profession.
As you can imagine, the are many benefits to this project. It serves to provide teachers with more and better tools for teaching. At the same time, students are also more motivated and have the desire to stay in school due to improved classes and facilities. It also supports the economy of families, who can be confident that their children are in a safe place and getting a balanced diet. This enables parents and relatives to work longer hours knowing that their children are fine.
The country calls for an educational revolution for public schools across the country. Meanwhile, different institutions are working on building a stronger education model to achieve this goal.