I just got done covering education and the difficulty of reform in my Mexican economic development class and it was pretty depressing. Given that, I was thrilled to read about some very cool news on the educational front in Mexico.
Wired has an article about a middle school teacher who was intrigued by the grannies in the cloud idea and decided to try to implement something similar in his class. The result is something like a Hollywood movie. Here’s the scene:
“José Urbina López Primary School sits next to a dump just across the US border in Mexico. The school serves residents of Matamoros, a dusty, sunbaked city of 489,000 that is a flash point in the war on drugs. There are regular shoot-outs, and it’s not uncommon for locals to find bodies scattered in the street in the morning. On most days, a rotten smell drifts through the cement-walled classrooms. Some people here call the school un lugar de castigo—“a place of punishment.”
Here’s the hero teacher of the story:
Sergio Juárez Correa started by telling them that there were kids in other parts of the world who could memorize pi to hundreds of decimal points. They could write symphonies and build robots and airplanes. Most people wouldn’t think that the students at José Urbina López could do those kinds of things. Kids just across the border in Brownsville, Texas, had laptops, high-speed Internet, and tutoring, while in Matamoros the students had intermittent electricity, few computers, limited Internet, and sometimes not enough to eat.
Here are some of the (pretty big) obstacles he faced:
A key component in Mitra’s theory [the granny in the cloud guy] was that children could learn by having access to the web, but that wasn’t easy for Juárez Correa’s students. The state paid for a technology instructor who visited each class once a week, but he didn’t have much technology to demonstrate. Instead, he had a batch of posters depicting keyboards, joysticks, and 3.5-inch floppy disks. He would hold the posters up and say things like, “This is a keyboard. You use it to type.”
As a result, Juárez Correa became a slow-motion conduit to the Internet. When the kids wanted to know why we see only one side of the moon, for example, he went home, Googled it, and brought back an explanation the next day. When they asked specific questions about eclipses and the equinox, he told them he’d figure it out and report back.
The Hollywood ending:
The previous year, 45 percent had essentially failed the math section, and 31 percent had failed Spanish. This time only 7 percent failed math and 3.5 percent failed Spanish. And while none had posted an Excellent score before, 63 percent were now in that category in math.
The language scores were very high. Even the lowest was well above the national average. Then he noticed the math scores. The top score in Juárez Correa’s class was 921. Zavala Hernandez [the principle] looked over at the top score in the state: It was 921. When he saw the next box over, the hairs on his arms stood up. Paloma received the highest math score in the country, but the other students weren’t far behind. Ten got math scores that placed them in the 99.99th percentile. Three of them placed at the same high level in Spanish.
That’s right. Not only did the scores go through the roof after one year of the new teaching methodology, but Juárez Correa discovered that he had the smartest math student in the country in his class.
The evil administrator tries his best to denigrate Juárez Correa and his students’ achievement, makes an idiot of himself, and hopefully (but unlikely) signs his own letter of resignation with this dribble:
Francisco Sánchez Salazar, chief of the Regional Center of Educational Development in Matamoros, was even dismissive. “The teaching method makes little difference,” he says. Nor does he believe that the students’ success warrants any additional help. “Intelligence comes from necessity,” he says. “They succeed without having resources.”
Our hero remains undaunted though and I can only hope that other teachers find inspiration in his story (and that administrators like Sánchez Salazar are canned).