Key challenges when teaching in countries with limited opportunity
“The bureaucracy could be paralysing, resources were minimal, and teachers received little support from the system”
As an international educator, I’m sure you don’t need to be told how culture, environment and infrastructure often shape the education systems of the countries that we work in. The external forces that affect a countries education structure are vast, varying from historical biases through to physical geography and the accessibility of resources.
My time in Guyana, South America highlighted this point. There were countless issues that Guyana’s schools faced. The bureaucracy could be paralysing, resources were minimal, and teachers received little support from the system despite organising extracurricular events and buying equipment using their own salaries.
However, the greatest challenge was the innate lack of opportunity within the country’s education system. This limited opportunity was a driver of many problems I faced during my time as a teacher and this quick post cover a few of the most common that you may encounter yourself.
In the remote village where I taught, most citizens were subsistence farmers. They grew crops to eat and made very little money selling what they had spare. The majority of these farmers had received little to no formal education and whilst this wasn’t the universal view, there’s no doubt that many didn’t see the need for their child to be educated at all.
During parents’ evenings across the academic year, parents would usually sit at one of the extremes. They would either push their child incessantly to work harder and achieve, or they would be quite uncaring and pull their child out of school regularly to help on the farm. Those that didn’t see the value in education often displayed a defeatist attitude, claiming that even with an education, their children have no opportunity to seize and nowhere to go, they would simply be farmers too. This is an intrinsic issue that can only be fixed over time by teaching the next generation.
Attitude Towards Further Education
In Guyana, there was only one university located on the opposite side of the country. This meant that, aside from the teachers and government professionals who had gone to university, most didn’t have any idea of what university involved, how it worked or how to get in.
This fostered a negative attitude towards further education. It’s normal to devalue concepts that you don’t understand fully and that is exactly what happened. Saying this, those that strove for further education often looked beyond Guyana’s borders and to the USA, targeting well-established colleges on the continent.
“It’s our job as educators to show students the paths they can take, even in countries with limited options available”
In general, I found that supplying parents with resources around the topic was the best way to curb this issue; admission guides like these served as a great way of explaining the process of applying to university and, accompanied by personal anecdotes, created a much better understanding of further education within the community.
The previous two points were community-wide issues but as educators, we deal more commonly with the students. These concerns, combined with a lack of opportunity, had a notable effect on student effort and aspiration. Pupils didn’t have long-term goals because they felt destined to live a certain life, primarily due to the fact that there was no clear path to break the mould.
As we all know, it’s impossible to make a student learn. It’s completely understandable for a student to put in no effort if they feel like they are going nowhere anyway. It’s our job as educators to show students the paths they can take, even in countries with limited options available. That’s how we can truly make a difference in struggling international settings.
About the author: Gianluca Montaque is a former volunteer at Project Trust, through which he taught English for a full academic year in Guyana, South America.