Primary Education in Ecuador's Chota Valley
Reflections on Education and Social Reproduction in the Development Era
In November 1998, the author arrived in Mascarilla, a small village in Ecuador's predominantly-black Chota Valley, to begin a six-month teaching assignment at the Escuela "Hernando Tquez" (the local primary school). Based both on his own observations and on the assessments offered by various former students, parents, community leaders, and Ecuadorean scholars, the author judges the educational performance of the Escuela "Hernando Tquez" to be grossly inadequate. Indeed, the various shortcomings attributed to the school (and documented as a case study in chapters three and four of this book) are so glaring that the author was led to question how such a dysfunctional school could be allowed to exist in a country where the government states that "to improve education is to improve the quality of life of Ecuador's people." Ultimately, the school's failure to provide quality education to its students forced the author to reconsider the true purpose of public education.
Indeed, why does the state provide public education? It is generally assumed that the state builds and supports public schools because it believes in the potential of education to affect great changes in society. Specifically, most government officials contend that public school systems are designed with two primary goals: to contribute to the state's socio-economic development through the creation of "human capital," and to preserve and promote national unity and democratic values. Reflecting on the poor performance of the Escuela "Hernando Tquez," the author (in chapter five) asks whether there might be a hidden agenda regarding the state's role in public education. Perhaps the state's rhetoric regarding the potential socio-economic and political benefits of public education is used to obscure the public school system's true purpose. Perhaps the state (acting as the representative of society's dominant classes) provides public education in order to control oppressed groups, to ensure that they do not challenge the status quo. Perhaps the state provides public education solely in order to ensure the social reproduction of injustice and inequality.
The final chapter considers the relationship between education and development, observing how the prevailing development-as-economic-development definition has often led to increased inequality and injustice. Proposing a new understanding of development based on humanist ideals, the author explores how public schools such as the Escuela "Hernando Tquez" could be transformed from the control mechanisms that they are, into the instruments of social justice that they could be.