Update- why education in poor countries is poor

Today the teacher’s union here declared another strike. So far we’ve had a 24 hour strike (I got off), a 48-hour strike (Kinder still had classes) and now starting Monday we’ll have a 72-hour strike of all grade schools and high schools. And if the teachers still don’t get their demands the next step apparently is an indefinite strike. It sounds as if it’s not that uncommon for these things to happen either. My first thought is of the children who only get 20 hours of school a week as it is and don’t need to be missing so many school days. And then I think of the poor parents who most likely leave their kids at home alone because they can’t afford the childcare, and if they do put them in childcare, this is now 6 extra days that they have to pay for.

Then I think of the professors, are they justified in being so angry? It appears that perhaps they are. Like most teachers, their jobs are incredibly important to the formation of the next generation and yet they are under-paid and work in very challenging conditions (class sizes of 45+ and not even enough chairs for all the students). As Tom mentioned in an earlier post, food prices have increased significantly here in the last 5 years from what we gather and the teachers claim they haven’t been given an adequate cost-of-living increase. An increase of 15% was announced about a month ago but that did not satisfy most since apparently everything, including government fees, have increased at least 15% leaving them with the same or less equivalent take-home. In addition, Evo Morales, personally, and his government officials have apparently made countless promises that they have failed to complete. This is particularly ironic because one of Evo’s slogans is “Evo cumple” which means basically that Evo follows through with his word, he’s there for you. Now as you can imagine “Evo no cumple” is heard more frequently. One promise in particular (which surprised me when I heard it) is that for the last two years he has said the government will buy laptops for every single government-paid teacher. I assume this is an initiative to modernize education, improve the teaching, etc. Well two years have passed, and no laptops have arrived. This issue is apparently on ‘the list’ that the teachers are presenting to the government with this most recent strike. I’m not particularly surprised that the teachers haven’t received laptops; they’re even more expensive here because everything is imported. Tom priced out a laptop he wanted and it cost $200 more to buy from Bolivia than to buy from the U.S., not including shipping. Just in general, technology is pricey here, since there is no local option. What surprises me is WHY he would make such a promise, and why they believed him. That’s extremely expensive for the government, the same government that closed our preschool for the month of February because sugar prices were high.

Besides the previous 15% increase, the government’s only response has been to announce that the teachers’ salaries will be discounted for every day that they strike. So both sides are trying to play hardball. I don’t think the teachers will get their laptops, at best they’ll get a pay raise (they probably make about $125/month currently). I think an indefinite strike would be a real shame for the students however.

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