These are some of the girls of the Centro Escolar Margarita Duran de Santa Tecla. If I walk around the courtyard with my camera, there are always students asking to have their photos taken.
Some readers have commented that the school and the girls don’t look different from the US. Others have asked about the dynamics of the school (class size, subjects, etc.) Below are some of my observations and answers to questions that I’ve asked.
-Centro Escolar Margarita Duran de Santa Tecla is an all-girls public school. The students attend classes for grades 1-9, from ages 6 to 15. Most girls stop there education after Grade 9. There are options both public and private to attend high school, but it is complicated and often viewed as not necessary.
-The girls either attend the morning session (7:00 to 12:00) or the afternoon session (1:00-5:00). The staff in the morning and afternoon are also different. From my observations, the girls in the morning have the advantage in terms of getting a higher quality education. In the morning, everyone is fresh and the weather is reasonably cool. By afternoon, it is hot and some of the girls are tired from working in the morning. Isn’t it odd the way in which your schedule can affect your educational outcome and thereby your life?
-Subjects include: Mathematics, Language, Computer Skills, Social Studies, Science, Art, Physical Education, Values, and English.
-I’ve had class sizes ranging from 18 students to over 30 students.
After observing the students for a week and a half, I was left with some questions. Joaquin Batres, the Teaching You coordinator and the person managing my trip, was kind enough to answer some of my questions. I am paraphrasing and these are not direct quotes.
Q. This is a public school, so it is free?
A. Yes and no. School is free and the government provides the school uniform (including socks and shoes) and some basic school supplies to start the year.
Things not paid for by the government include:
– School books (Some individual books can cost as much as $40)
– A uniform for physical education class, costing $22-26
– Computer class is a special class and there is a fee of $35 per year.
– Students can receive a light meal, such as arroz con leche (milk and rice). The food is provided by the government, but the other ingredients to make it palatable and someone to prepare it is not covered. –
There is a fee of $10 per year for this.
Q. How difficult is it for the families to pay for these things?
A. It depends on how much they earn, which is largely a function of the type of job they have. Joaquin provided the following list of types of jobs and the corresponding monthly earnings:
– Trades and services: $251.70 –
– Industrial work, such as factiories: $246.60
-Textile and clothing industry: $210.90 (Note: These are largely factories making clothing for companies in the USA and other developed countries. Joaquin listed Nike, Adidas, and The Gap as companies currently making or having made clothing here.*)
-Coffee Farm worker: $129.00
-Other agriculture: $118.20
-Sugar plantations: $109.20
-Cotton plantations: $98.70
Q. How do the families afford the costs?
A. Some pay a little bit at a time. Sometimes, they can’t pay or can’t pay for everything. That is why you see girls playing sports in their school uniform instead of the physical education uniform. Some girls can’t afford the books. (Note: I’ve seen some students who lack notebooks and whole classes using copied materials instead of books.) Some girls are not able to attend computer classes. But all of them can attend the basic classes; they just may not be able to afford some or all of the items above.
(Note: Teaching You is spending their program fees (e.g. the money I paid to come here) not for Joaquin’s salary but for students who have educational needs. They also sponsor a summer school program for a group of students likely to be able to get scholarships and do well in further education, and a few scholarships so that children can attend better schools and high school.
Joaquin often excitedly announces that someone is interested in coming to one of the Central American programs and if they do, what he can get for the students with the program fee.)
Q. So why the emphasis on learning English with Teaching You?
A. English is a critical job skill. If a girl can learn to speak English well, she can get a job at a call center and earn $400-500 a month. That is a very good wage in this economy and can lift a family to a better life. (Note: The caveat is that they must speak very well to get this type of job. My first weekend I met two men who worked at call centers. Their English is so good, I mistook them for being from the US or Canada.)
So why show such happy faces here? As my friend Ariela told me, you can describe the educational system here but don’t make them sound miserable. They are not. I see a lot of smiling faces, despite the problems and challenges. But they could have better lives.
*The following link supports the list of companies either having made or currently making clothing in El Salvador: https://glhrcentralamerica.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/el-salvador-garment-workers-face-growing-poverty-under-cafta/
Note: All dollar figures are in US dollars, which is the currency here.
Thank you to Joaquin Batres for his help with this post.