Improvements in local education practices will ensure a bright future for Galapagos. (Photo by Shilo Landis)



Improvements in local education practices will ensure a bright future for Galapagos. (Photo by Shilo Landis)

The current status of education in Galapagos

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).

Among these schools there are several private options. In the 1990s, concerned parents formed the Fundación Scalesia to provide an educational alternative for their children that could serve as a model for other schools in Galapagos. Currently, the Foundation operates the Tomás de Berlanga School on the Island of Santa Cruz, which offers bilingual primary and secondary education to approximately 130 students. The Loma Linda Adventist School also offers bilingual primary and secondary education on Santa Cruz. The Liceo Naval offers private secondary education on the island of San Cristóbal, but this school will soon transfer into the public system. There is also a parent-led initiative, still in the conceptual stage, to establish a private bilingual school on San Cristóbal.

Chronic challenges related to education in Galapagos have included:

  • A weak teacher base; most local educators have been trained in pedagogy that stresses memorization and repetition.
  • Little emphasis on independent thought, active learning, or 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 on the Galapagos Islands 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.

Educational reform in Ecuador and Galapagos

The Government of Ecuador began a process of national educational reform in the late 1990s that resulted in the Strategic Plan for the Development of Ecuadorian Education (1997-1998). Among other objectives, this initiative sought to:

  • Define baseline objectives and requirements for different subjects and grade levels
  • Shift from a focus on memorization to more active learning
  • Improve the quality of teachers
  • Integrate values and environmental education

Although these were sound objectives, implementation was lacking and the reform process had minimal impact on education in Galapagos.

Article 32 of the Galapagos Special Law (1998) addressed education in the Galapagos archipelago. The Law provides a framework for meaningful reform, although many of the elements have yet to be implemented. Of note, the Special Law calls for:

  • Education and training focused on the special conditions and needs in Galapagos
  • Integrated educational reform that incorporates environmental preservation and conservation
  • Greater local authority for education. The Ministry of Education and Culture grants the Provincial Directorate for Education in Galapagos greater administrative, technical, pedagogical, and administrative responsibilities, and charges the Directorate with implementing integrated educational reform.
  • Improvements to educational infrastructure (bricks and mortar, equipment, books, and technology)
  • Increased teacher pay
  • Ongoing evaluation of teachers to ensure the quality of education
  • Scholarships and educational loans for teachers and students from Galapagos

Under the administration of President Rafael Correa and Ecuador’s 2008 Constitution, national educational reform has received renewed attention. 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 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 Ministry is also commitment to expanding public International Baccalaureate (IB) Programs throughout Ecuador. The IB Program is a challenging high school initiative offered in schools in 141 countries around the world. It 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 Colegio is 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 on the mainland.

In the area of private education, the Scalesia Foundation and the Tomás de Berlanga School have taken great strides towards becoming a potentially exemplar teacher training ground for other schools in the island. The school is dedicated to keeping its program accessible to students with limited financial resources, through a scholarship program benefiting nearly 40% of the student body. The Foundation is finalizing a strategic plan for the Tomás de Berlanga School that will guide the school through its next phase of development, consolidating academic excellence and financial sustainability. With this strategy in place, the Foundation plans to pursue its original vision of promoting and supporting a broad portfolio of education initiatives.

Taking reform efforts to the next level

While many short-term policy and conservation interventions seek to mitigate environmental damage in Galapagos, long-term protection of the islands will be possible only when local residents become champions for conservation and have the knowledge, skills, and vision necessary to live in balance with the fragile Galapagos environment.

An essential avenue to creating an informed and engaged citizenry is through rigorous education in, about, and for the environment.  A forward-looking educational philosophy combined with greater parental involvement, innovative teaching strategies, an improved curriculum, and learning opportunities outside of the classroom have the potential to foster important outcomes: 

  • essential  skills (such as reading, writing, arithmetic, science, and critical thinking)
  • a profound appreciation for the importance of Galapagos’ natural environment
  • pride in the archipelago’s colorful history and pioneer culture
  • entrepreneurship and a sense of environmental citizenship
  • leadership and conflict resolution abilities
  • other skills demanded in the work place and academic world, including English language and computer literacy

Many of these elements are central to the education model of the Fundación Scalesia’s Tomás de Berlanga School. They are also consistent with Ecuador’s vision for public education and its new national curriculum, still in the early stages of implementation.

The small size of Galapagos, in terms of its physical area and student-aged population, makes it possible to achieve profound, across-the-board improvements in education that over time will help address the social and environmental challenges facing the Archipelago. These improvements will also serve to showcase Ecuador’s new national curriculum and related best practices in education as an exemplar for the rest of Ecuador and other environmentally delicate parts of the world.

Galapagos Conservancy and its partners in Galapagos, the Ecuadorian mainland, and the US are discussing a multi-year initiative geared towards strengthening Galapagos education in ways that will promote sustainable development. Priorities include:

  1. Establish a local champion of education. Given the physical isolation of Galapagos, the unique educational needs in the islands, and the many demands facing the Ministry of Education as it implements reform throughout Ecuador, we believe that broad, lasting educational improvements in the Islands require the support of a local champion in Galapagos civil society to collaborate with and support the work of the Ministry of Education, and to help identify and focus needed financial resources and expertise.
  2. Demonstrate best practices in action. There has been a lot of talk about educational reform in Galapagos and people generally believe that it is important. However, there are few examples of best educational practices in the islands and, as a result, there is little shared understanding of what the reform process could and should actually achieve. Seeing is believing. The reform process would benefit greatly if more educators and local leaders were exposed to best practices in action.
        1. In the area of formal education, the Tomás de Berlanga School on Santa Cruz has the potential to achieve the role, envisioned by its founders, as a model of best educational practices in action and a training ground for Galapagos teachers.
        2. In the area of vocational and non-formal education, there is a need to develop and support programs that respond to the lack of technical skills in the local economy and learning opportunities outside of the classroom which strengthen environmental literacy. Businesses, schools, and community leaders in Galapagos need to be involved in conceptualizing and implementing these programs.
  3. Provide intensive professional development.  Professional development opportunities (workshops, in-class modeling and mentoring) must be made available to teachers and administrators at schools throughout the archipelago. Potential sources of training include the Ministry of Education’s SIPROFE team (Sistema Integral de Desarrollo Profesional Educativo–the training arm of Ecuador’s Ministry of Education), educators associated with the Tomás de Berlanga School, and other outstanding educators from Ecuador and abroad. Ideally, highly-experienced educators will be recruited and placed in schools throughout the Galapagos Islands to model best practices and to provide follow- up to professional development activities offered by the project and to serve as in-house mentors at their host schools.
  4. High-quality education research. The relatively small number of schools, teachers, and students in Galapagos provides an opportunity for intensive implementation of the new curriculum, and for conducting research of its impact in a contained geographic area.  Well-designed research initiatives will help make necessary adjustments to the curriculum, and will provide important lessons for implementation of the curriculum in other parts of the country.

To learn more about our thinking related to education in Galapagos, to share your ideas and experience, or to make a gift to support this work, please email us

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