Amazing what a bit of purpose will do…

Itaituba bound!

In a few hours I’m heading to the airport to catch a quick flight southwest to Itaituba (colloquially known as the “Golden City”).  For all intents and purposes, I’ll be doing many of the same things there that I have been doing here in Santarém with Jose Luis (the SAINT who’s going out of his way to drive me to the airport). I had lunch with João Franscisco, the professor I’m set up to work with, and he seems like both an experienced teacher and a generally nice guy.  Good stuff.  Here’s the city’s wikipedia page in case your curious about where I’m going. Expect to here a lot more about the mineral rich, hellishly hot (apparently much worse than Santarém) city of Itaituba in next week’s post!

…here’s a map I made to give you an sense of where it is…

Finding purpose in the Amazon:

And…EXHALE. Finally. After months of twiddling my thumbs in class watching mainly disinterested students show up late and then spend the next two hours texting/talking on cell phones, I can happily report that some solid English learning took place here at UFOPA over the past week. I have to admit…seeing grown-up adults consistently come to class unprepared with “dog ate my homework” excuses…or go on strike because many would prefer a vacation…has worn on me over the past semester.  Thus, as much as the PARFOR program has been a teaching grind (I leave the house at 7:20 every morning and get back at 9 or 10 every night), working with a good number of students who actually have interest in what I’m saying more than makes up for the minor discomforts. Don’t get me wrong, Jose Luis and I still had a plethora of tardy arrivals and early self-dismissals (a bunch of students insisted that they had to go to the bank everyday), but the fact that I need at least two hands (or more depending on the day and time) to count the number of engaged pupils in class has been…refreshing.

…It’s also amazing what a bit of purpose will do…putting up with the ants, mosquitos, mold, life-force draining sun…significantly easier at the moment…

…here’s a picture of Jose Luis…hard at work…as always…

PARFOR: Yay or Nay?

Last week I offered you my somewhat uninformed understanding of the structure and function of PARFOR. This week…luckily…I know a bit more and can clarify a few things about the program.  Basically, PARFOR is an extremely condensed “college-level extension” course run by UFOPA for teachers in rural schools throughout the western Pará region.  Most of the teachers only have high school level degrees and have never had the opportunity to study in college.  The program was started in 2010 under the banner of expanding educational opportunities into rural regions and graduating more college-educated teachers.

Over the course of three years, during both winter and summer vacations, the teachers spend six weeks at UFOPA (or UFOPA-affiliated schools in more remote cities) taking classes in their chosen area.  Every two weeks the group completes a semester’s worth of class hours (i.e 120 hours in class) and changes topics and professors.  At the end of three years they receive a UFOPA diploma and as a result are entitled to significantly higher salaries from the government.

Ultimately, in my opinion (and in the opinion of many people I’ve spoken with) the program seems to function as a way of retaining more teachers in rural communities.  Without college diplomas, teachers earn next to nothing and thus there are incessant teacher shortages throughout the region.  While learning and educational enhancement certainly happen (and it offers rural teachers opportunities they’ve never had), PARFOR seems primarily focused with churning out as many “college” graduates as possible (quantity over quality you could say). The problem, as you might have already guessed, is that PARFOR is in no way an adequate substitute for a real college education (it seems to assume that you can get full college education in 36 weeks) and is more of a band-aid than a real solution to our region’s extreme education problems.

The question, for which I don’t have a definitive answer, is why so few teachers leave their communities to get college educations and why PARFOR is necessary.  Indeed, the opportunities to go to college in western Pará are growing by the day.  Public colleges are free and admission standards have been greatly relaxed to encourage higher enrollment. Yet, very few rural teachers attend college. One theory I’ve heard, and one that certainly seems plausible, is that by the age of 18 most women (the VAST majority of rural teachers are female) are already married (often with kids), have a house to tend to and as such never are never given the opportunity to leave their communities in pursuit of a college education.  Another contributing factor seems to be the fact that many individuals simply don’t want to leave their communities behind (if only for a couple of years) and head to the “big” city for college.  Doing so would necessitate abandoning their communities and as such they seldom seek education past high school.

Unfortunately, you can see how a program like PARFOR could actually disincentivize young aspiring teachers to seek out full higher learning opportunities as it offers them a “college-education” and salary without having to spend a lot of time away from home. Thus, whether or not PARFOR is merely a quick fix that in some ways perpetuates the low quality of teaching in rural communities is certainly a reasonable question and valid concern. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see…

Other happenings

  • Internet FAIL: 36 hours. You can’t make this stuff up. 250,000 people had absolutely no internet access for a full day and a half last week.  Banks/ATMs couldn’t function…people were unable to use credit cards…and communication with the outside world literally came to a halt (it was apparently impossible to make or receive calls from abroad). It’s times like these that I ask myself…where the bleep am I?
  • Anderson “The Spider” Silva: While I may not be the biggest UFC fan, Donovan, Dan, and myself decided to watch Anderson Silva (the Brazilian universally considered the best fighter in the world) and an American duke it out for the heavyweight title last Saturday night in a bar full of rowdy and intoxicated Silva fans (he’s a major national hero).  Needless to say, it was a bit awkward when the crowd in Vegas started the “USA, USA, USA” chants as Silva fell behind early. Thankfully, Silva then proceeded to crush the American and we were able to slink out of the bar unnoticed. I will say though, despite the fact that some fights last about 10 seconds, UFC is about ten times as cool as boxing.
  • The New ORLA (Sponsored by the lovely folks at Cargill): Two weeks ago a brand new section of the boardwalk was unveiled on the western end of the riverfront. The new boardwalk weaves through partially flooded forest and is definitely a major upgrade to front of the city (it almost feels like an actual park!). That said, it also gives you a BEAUTIFUL view of the massive Cargill (the American soy multinational) loading dock. Apparently, Cargill sponsored the new boardwalk as a way to make up for the fact that…everybody in Santarém hates them for 1. Ruining the view on the riverfront and 2. Destroying the rainforest.
  • Officially getting ready for my big trip! One and a half short weeks away! Seriously though…WHO’S COUNTING?!
  • Donovan and I have gone to the gym to lift 12 out of the last 14 days. That’s what happens when you’re A. bored and B. bored.

Get ready for a month and a half of exciting posts! That’s all for now. Have a good week!

Um forte abraço,

Andy

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