Education Reform in Galapagos: The Intersection of Big Ideas and Local Initiative

March 13, 2014

Students Waving in Santa CruzI recently returned from Ecuador following two days of meetings in Quito with officials from the Ministry of Education and a week of meetings in the Islands. These meetings left me exhilarated by the confluence of the Ministry’s big-picture education strategy and local initiatives that are well-aligned with national priorities.

Over the past 7 years, the administration of President Rafael Correa has demonstrated a strong commitment to strengthening public education in Ecuador by:

  • Tripling public investments in education, 
  • Launching early childhood and special needs education,
  • Professionalizing the teacher base through training, and 
  • Developing a new national curriculum with a strong emphasis on sustainable development and the indigenous concept of sumak kawsay (achieving a harmonious relationship between human beings and their surroundings).

Those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about Galapagos are particularly pleased that the Ministry has developed a special version of the national curriculum for Galapagos, which in the words of former Minister of Education, Gloria Vidal, is designed to:

“…develop a deep understanding and appreciation for what makes Galapagos unique, encourage a strong commitment to conservation, and prepare residents to participate actively in discussions related to local public policy.” 

Underlying all of this change is a sincere effort on behalf of the Ecuadorian government to raise the profile of the teaching profession—and make it a field in which talented young people aspire to work. 

Of course, implementing change of this magnitude is never easy—and in the case of Ecuador’s educational reform process, the challenges and tensions are considerable. While many teachers are receiving better salaries and have more access to professional development, most are working longer hours and, for the first time, are experiencing the pressures of annual performance-based evaluations. Even teachers with the strongest skills and vocation are finding it challenging to adopt new teaching approaches and develop the materials needed to implement the new national curriculum in their classrooms.

Challenges notwithstanding, the potential of the reform process is undeniable, and a number of civil society organizations in Galapagos are already carrying out initiatives aligned with Ministry goals. During my recent trip to Galapagos, I spoke with leaders of a number of such initiatives.

Students at the Tomas de Berlanga SchoolIn the area of formal education, the Galapagos-based Scalesia Foundation seeks to strengthen its Tomás de Berlanga School to become an example of proven educational practices that could be applied in other Galapagos classrooms. Together with Galapagos Conservancy, the Scalesia Foundation is working with the Ministry of Education to launch a teacher training and mentoring program that will strengthen the pedagogical skills and content knowledge of teachers throughout Galapagos.


Other organizations are working with the Ministry of Education to foster student learning outside of the classroom. FUNDAR Galapagos, a local NGO based in Santa Cruz, offers weekend and after school workshops on leadership and the environment, which make up part of the formal education requirements for high school students. On the island of San Cristobal, the Pasos Equilibrados (Balanced Steps) project—a pilot project focused on youth leadership development and service learning—is expanding its work in close coordination with the Ministry of Education and the Governing Council of Galapagos. The Ecohelix Project, a new program also based in San Cristobal, is working closely with local high schools to involve students in surveys, training and web-based applications designed to improve the environmental practices of local tourism businesses.

Galapagos Conservancy works closely with these and other exciting education programs in Galapagos. We believe partnerships that combine 1) the vision, mandate and human resources of the Ministry of Education, 2) the knowledge of Galapagos and hands on-approach of local NGOs, and 3) the donor and professional networks of organizations like GC make a powerful approach to educational reform. Learn more about expanding proven educational practices in Galapagos.


VIDEO: Barbara Torrey of the Tomás de Berlanga School discusses the incorporation of environmental sustainability in curricula.


Richard Knab is GC’s Director of Strategic Partnerships of 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.


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  1. I made a documentary in 2008 during my time in Galapagos that included a chapter on education. Since it was made, the country’s whole national legal framework for education has been updated and there have been some efforts to improve the quality of the teaching staff. However, the much needed educational reform in Galapagos is famously elusive. I hope it is finally gathering momentum!
    Kind regards,
    Carlos Pi

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