Sunday, March 01, 2009

Things I'm Thankful For

I ran across this article, Too Many Innocents Abroad, when I was reading the Times this morning.  It reminded me of why I chose to do AmeriCorps instead of Peace Corps. 

In Cameroon, we had many volunteers sent to serve in the agriculture program whose only experience was puttering around in their mom and dad’s backyard during high school. I wrote to our headquarters in Washington to ask if anyone had considered how an American farmer would feel if a fresh-out-of-college Cameroonian with a liberal arts degree who had occasionally visited Grandma’s cassava plot were sent to Iowa to consult on pig-raising techniques learned in a three-month crash course. I’m pretty sure the American farmer would see it as a publicity stunt and a bunch of hooey, but I never heard back from headquarters.

When Peace Corps finally offered me a position as a volunteer in 2003, it was working with agriculture in South America.  Not only did I have no interest in this (or much knowledge), I knew that as a female in Bolivia or whever it was that they wanted to send me, I would have little to no impact.  I'd already lived in Mexico by then, and remember thinking what a waste it would be for me to do that job.

This lack of organizational introspection allows the agency to continue sending, for example, unqualified volunteers to teach English when nearly every developing country could easily find high-caliber English teachers among its own population. Even after Cameroonian teachers and education officials ranked English instruction as their lowest priority (after help with computer literacy, math and science, for example), headquarters in Washington continued to send trainees with little or no classroom experience to teach English in Cameroonian schools. One volunteer told me that the only possible reason he could think of for having been selected was that he was a native English speaker.

This is one of my arguments now.  I gave several trainings for incoming and in-service PCVs in El Salvador, many of which would end up teaching English. Because of the 2021 bilingual plan in the public schools, there was a huge need for teachers to learn more of the language, but there was no country-wide plan that I ever saw.  I did meet volunteers who did excellent jobs of working with this, but they were usually a little bit older, or in a Master's international program.  Here in Manizales, they want to bring native speakers to be in the schools, but their teachers should come first.  It may take several years to bring them all to the level of language and methodology that they need, but I've met some excellent, excellent public school teachers here.  Sometimes I feel like it's degrading to my own career...if all you have to be is a native speaker to teach English, then why did I get my Master's and why do have to be certified in the U.S. to teach (it's not like this everywhere here, I'm more reacting to what I've seen going on in Central America with Peace Corps and English language teaching).  

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