Ecuador is wrapping up an ambitious ten-year plan for transforming its education system, and a recent UNESCO study found that education is improving more rapidly in Ecuador than in any other country in the region. However, Galapagos students are lagging behind, in part due to the physical isolation of Galapagos and limited internet connectivity, which has made it difficult for the Ministry of Education to fully implement its reforms in the Islands. Galapagos Conservancy believes that high quality education — which makes meaningful connections between what students learn in the classroom and their unique surroundings — is a key step in building a society of Galapagos residents with the skills and commitment to protecting the delicate ecosystems of the Islands, which are home to nearly 30,000 permanent residents.
After several years of networking, an intensive needs assessment, and extensive dialogue involving a wide range of stakeholders, my September 2015 trip to Ecuador provided a glimpse of what our Education for Sustainability in Galapagos (ESG) Program will look like, once it is in full swing during the 2016-2017 school year. And I am very excited by what I saw!
The ESG Program is a public-private initiative through which program partners (Ecuador’s Ministry of Education, the Galapagos Governing Council, the Galapagos-based Scalesia Foundation, and Galapagos Conservancy) will improve the quality of education in the Islands by means of an intensive, five-year professional development program that will strengthen the content knowledge and teaching skills of every teacher in every school in Galapagos.
The purpose of this particular trip was to help our Math Advisory Team — a talented group of math specialists — gather information needed to fully implement the program next year. The core members of our Math Advisory Team are associated with Teachers2Teachers International (T2T-I), a non-profit based in Chapel Hill, NC that carries out teacher professional development and teacher exchanges in different parts of the world, and whose philosophy of teacher training and student learning is closely aligned with the ESG program.
Working closely with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education and experts in teacher professional development programs in different parts of the world, we have developed what could become the most intensive and comprehensive teacher training program ever implemented in Latin America. Our goal is to ensure that over the course of the program, outstanding Galapagos educators will be trained to replace externally-hired education coaches, and will continue training and coaching Galapagos educators well into the future. We see Galapagos becoming a “seedbed” of enlightened, effective educators and school leaders.
During our September trip, we first met with various advocates of the program in Quito, including top officials at the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education, and then headed to Galapagos for a week of school visits and teacher training. Each morning we met with school directors, who voiced their enthusiastic support for our program, and observed high school math teachers and K-8 teachers. In the afternoons, members of the Advisory Team provided teacher professional development workshops. The workshop were designed based on a review of the Ecuadorian curriculum and the Ministry’s “Temario,” which outlines concepts and strategies teachers must master in order to be successful in their classrooms. Presenters modeled the same pedagogy that we hope teachers will use with their students, and everyday life in Galapagos figured prominently in each lesson.
A good example of this approach was a high school teacher workshop entitled “Capture-Recapture: Estimating Animal Populations with Mathematical Tools.” The session began with a discussion of Galapagos Conservancy’s Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative and the challenges of estimating tortoise populations on large islands. Teachers then worked together in groups, where a bowl of white beans at each table represented tortoises in the wild. Teachers proceeded to “capture, tag, and release” tortoises by removing a handful of beans from the bowl, replacing them with black beans, and stirring the two together. The black beans thus became tagged tortoises, and from there they had to estimate the total tortoise population based on the proportion of black to white beans, or “tagged” to “untagged” animals. The activity provided participants an opportunity to apply mathematical concepts within the real-world context of a major Galapagos conservation initiative.
Over the course of this trip, we were thrilled with the high level of support from key government institutions for this program, and by the enthusiasm expressed by school teachers and directors alike. There is still a lot of work to be done, and additional funding to identify, but we are ready to launch the full program, with teacher training in mathematics, science, literacy and social studies, in April, 2016!
Richard Knab is GC’s Director of Strategic Partnerships of more than 11 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.
All photos © T2T-I except second-to-last photo (teacher workshop) © Ministerio de Educación del Ecuador.