Young Galapagos children sit patiently while learning about tortoises. (Photo by Jason Sharett)
Education was among the 15 issues identified by the World Heritage Committee when it recommended that Galapagos be placed on the list of World Heritage in Danger.
Specifically, it noted the absence of a general capacity-building strategy among local residents to enable them to be better prepared to undertake technical or professional work traditionally done by foreigners. It also noted that Integrated Educational Reform, called for in the Galapagos Special Law of 1998 had not yet been implemented.
The Galapagos education system currently serves just over 5,200 primary and secondary students through a network of 20 public and private schools on the islands of Santa Cruz (9 schools), San Cristóbal (6), Isabela (4), and Floreana (1). Chronic challenges have included:
- A weak teacher base; most local educators have been trained in pedagogy that stresses memorization and repetition
- Little emphasis on independent thought and active learning and new approaches based on how young people learn
- Environmental themes have not been integrated into the curriculum and teachers are not taking sufficient advantage of the physical surroundings as a natural laboratory to teach and apply basic concepts
- Little has been done to develop competencies demanded in the work place and university study, such as English language and computer skills, among others
- School administration and governance is often weak, lacking the capacity to lead change and maximize the impact of limited resources
- School infrastructure is often inadequate (size, condition, design, etc.)
- Education and training programs do not currently respond to the tremendous need in Galapagos for residents with vocational skills
- There are few formative extracurricular activities in Galapagos to complement and reinforce what is learned in the classroom and to expand environmental literacy
- The archipelago’s isolation complicates national teacher training and professional development programs
- There is no local voice in Galapagos civil society to address the special educational needs on the populated islands and to help coordinate and support educational initiatives
Despite these challenges, there are a number of positive developments which, if integrated and leveraged effectively, could result in significant improvements to education on the Galapagos in the coming years. Of particular interest:
The work of the Scalesia Foundation and the Tomás de Berlanga School. In 1993, concerned community members formed the Scalesia Foundation to improve education in the islands. In 1994 the Foundation launched the Tomás de Belanga School on Santa Cruz as an alternative educational model for Galapagos and Galapagos youths. In recent years, the school has taken great strides towards becoming an exemplar and potential teacher training ground for other schools in the island. The Foundation is finalizing a strategic plan for the Tomás de Berlanga that will guide the school through its next phase of development, consolidating academic excellence and financial sustainability. The plan also outlines a path that will allow the Foundation to pursue its original vision of promoting and supporting a broad portfolio of education initiatives.
Innovations of the Ministry of Education. Educational reform has been a high priority of the current Ecuadorian government. Over the last several years, the Ministry of Education has implemented new evaluation standards, making it easier to replace ineffective teachers, and has implemented a nation-wide standardized examination to enter university. It has also developed a new national curriculum with a strong emphasis on sustainable development, the indigenous concept of sumak kawsay (achieving a harmonious relationship between human beings, and with their surroundings) and higher-level learning. The new science curriculum, which uses biomes as integrating themes, focuses on the Galapagos Archipelago for an entire year of middle school. Properly implemented, the new curriculum could have a very positive impact in Galapagos.
The Government of Ecuador is also committed to expanding public International Baccalaureate (IB) Programs. The International Baccalaureate Program (IB), a challenging high school initiative offered in schools in 141 countries, is designed to develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work responsibly and effectively in a rapidly globalizing world. In 2008, the Ministry of Education established one public IB program in each province in Ecuador, and recently announced its plans to significantly increase the number of public IB programs throughout the country. The Colegio Nacional Galapagos, a well-respected public high school in Puerto Ayora, administers the Galapagos IB program, the only school approved and recognized by UNESCO in an international natural heritage site. School leaders are finding it challenging to fully implement the IB program as it requires teachers to be trained both in new content, another language, and new pedagogical approaches. With time, however, the Colegio Galapagos’ IB Program could become another model of best practices in the islands, as well as a model for public IB programs in the mainland.
The government is also expanding scholarship opportunities for international study. The Ecuadorian Government has budgeted more than $180 million dollars to fund scholarship opportunities for Ecuadorian students to attend the best universities in the world, with the only requirement being that the students must return to Ecuador to work. The Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior, Ciencia y Tecnología (SENESCYT) has already established a public competition for these scholarships, which will not only cover tuition, but also housing, health care, books and other expenses at the most prestigious universities in the world. These scholarships offer a very good opportunity to train educators for Galapagos.
In its 2010 Mission Report, the World Heritage Committee concluded that much work remains to be done in this area, and significant changes will take perhaps another generation to fully implement. It noted that there have been some increases in training offered by the tourism industry and renewed focus on English language and computer skills development.
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