For over a year, Galapagos Conservancy has facilitated dialogue between the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education, the Scalesia Foundation (a Galapagos-based education non-profit), and members of the Galapagos education community about the need to strengthen education in ways that empower young people to play leadership roles in conservation. While this process has generated a lot of ideas and enthusiasm, all parties agreed that external expertise was needed to help define the best path forward.
Thanks to the generosity of several Galapagos Conservancy donors, we took an important step towards translating ideas into action earlier this year by organizing an international workshop focused on education. Galapagos Conservancy has previously utilized such workshops as an effective tool to assemble experts from outside Galapagos to help local stakeholders identify priorities and draft work plans in areas such as Floreana mockingbird recovery, rat eradication, giant tortoise restoration, Philornis downsi management, and knowledge management in Galapagos.
In the course of planning the education workshop, the term “Fase Escucha” (Listening Phase) replaced “workshop” among those involved. This name underscored our collective belief that successful educational change requires buy-in at the school level, and that school directors, teachers, and other local stakeholders must be directly involved in the early phases of project development and planning. In essence, a critical role of the external education specialists would be to observe, listen, and help translate the ideas and understanding of local realities of Galapagos stakeholders into effective, proven strategies.
After a good deal of planning and coordination, the Listening Phase took place from July 13-19, 2014, with the accompaniment of the Ministry of Education’s Director of International Cooperation. The “Listening Team” was comprised of educators with extensive experience in priority areas identified by the Ministry of Education, including environmental education, natural science, literacy, English language, mathematics, effective teacher professional development programs. Team members came from Ecuador (Universidad San Francisco de Quito; Colegio Menor en Samborondón; Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas/ESPE), Mexico (Instituto Thomas Jefferson Valle Real en Guadalajara), and the United States (Columbia University's Teachers College; Stanford University; University of Wisconsin-Whitewater; Southern Methodist University; University of North Carolina).
The Listening Team participated in an ambitious schedule of individual and group meetings with all of the 18 school directors on the islands of San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz, classroom observations at 15 schools, and 12 focus groups with teachers, parents, and students. The Team experienced first-hand the challenges teachers face in terms of communication (e.g., very limited Internet access) and inter-island travel (e.g., rough waters; delays due to a broken-down ferry).
Overall, the Listening Team members were impressed by the level of dedication they observed among Galapagos educators and the degree of alignment that exists among teachers, directors, parents, and students regarding the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Initial findings point to a multi-year professional development/school improvement program involving a core group of experienced mentors working regularly with school directors and teachers in Galapagos. The work of the mentors would be complemented by professional development workshops by subject area and grade held in Galapagos. This initiative could be connected with the Universidad Nacional de Educación (UNAE) — the new national teacher college on the mainland — using Galapagos as a place for graduating students to participate in supervised in-service training and internships under the tutelage of the Galapagos-based mentors.
The Listening Team was unanimous in its conviction that with proper funding and guidance, such a program is not only very achievable in Galapagos but could have tremendous impact. We are very excited about completing this first major step in reforming educational practices in Galapagos in order to empower youth to take an active role in conserving this fragile archipelago and building a sustainable society. We will share the final report and work plan with our members as soon as it is available, and look forward to working closely with individuals and organizations interested in helping to fund the implementation phase of this work.
In the meantime, it would be a pleasure to share additional ideas by email or phone (703-383-0077).
Read more about creating a sustainable society in Galapagos.
Richard Knab is GC's Director of Strategic Partnerships of more than 10 years, coordinating the Sustainable Society program and fundraising activities. He is particularly passionate about opportunities in Galapagos to strengthen formal and non-formal education, civil society, and citizen engagement in conservation.