Enseña Chile, a programme backed by Anglo American that puts high-flying graduates in the classroom teaching some of Chile’s most vulnerable students, is achieving remarkable results.
Wednesday 1 August 2012
Enseña Chile selects and trains high-calibre university graduates to teach in state schools in vulnerable communities across the country. Photograph: Anglo American
Education is a hot issue in Chile.
The country is fiercely debating the best way to create the schools and universities it needs as it transitions to an economy that relies as much on the skills and talent of its people as on its natural resources.
Although classroom performance is among the best in Latin America and public spending on education has increased seven fold in the past 20 years, experts say there is a wide gap between the privately schooled rich and the majority who are too often failed by municipal education.
Faced with a student population determined to engender change itself, the current government has promised to make improvements but in the meantime, a new social programme aimed at improving education in public schools is making significant headway.
A new approach
Like the 20-year-old Teach for America on which it is based, Enseña Chile (“Teach Chile” or “Chile Teaches” in Spanish) selects and trains high-calibre university graduates in areas such as law, engineering, business administration and medicine, to teach in state schools in vulnerable communities across the country.
After a rigorous selection process where fewer than one in 10 make the grade and an intense one-month training course, they spend two years working full-time in schools in the same conditions as the teachers.
“Half of the people who join us have never thought about teaching before,” says Tomas Recart, Ensena Chile’s co-founder and chief executive. “We select people who are already trained; we just polish them up.”
What they lack in teaching experience, they make up for in leadership, drive and a determination to achieve results. “We don’t want them just to be effective; we want them to be transformational,” Recart explains.
Support from business
Anglo American came on board as one of the programme’s strategic partners at a crucial moment in late 2008 when the global economy was in crisis and Enseña Chile was just weeks away from sending its first cohort of teachers into the classroom.
Today, the company not only supports the programme financially, but also shares its managerial experience, with executives sitting on both the programme’s strategic development and communications committees.
Enseña Chile has grown rapidly since 2008. Last year, it attracted 1,250 applicants, with 97 finally making it into the classroom. Spread around 54 schools in three regions of Chile, Recart estimates that around 20,000 pupils are now benefiting from the Enseña Chile initiative.
Many of the pupils come from troubled communities, plagued by drugs and petty crime. But once focused, their possibilities are endless.
Javiera Horta, an Enseña Chile recruit in her second year of teaching at a technical school in the southern city of Pitrufquen, says her biggest challenge was her pupils’ indifference.
Hailing mostly from local farming communities, they saw little point in education when their future lay in farming like generations before them. With her help, they are developing ambitions and challenging themselves. “Before, they didn’t care if they got a bad mark; now it affects them and they try harder,” she says.
Although the programme remains small in scale, it is already having a measurable impact on school results. An external evaluation by the Washington DC-based Inter-American Development Bank showed that, after just six months, pupils taught by Enseña Chile recruits were achieving higher scores in maths and Spanish than those taught by their regular teachers.
The main challenge is how the programme is viewed. Too many graduates see it as a form of charity when in reality, Recart says, it is “the best graduate school in the country”.
In the US and UK, employers have caught on. Last year, Teach for America was ranked the seventh best place to launch a career alongside the US State Department, KPMG and Ernst & Young. It is now the biggest recruiter of graduates from Harvard University.
Recart is under no illusion that Ensena Chile is the solution to Chile’s education problems. But it has changed the way the participants think about education and their own future, and Recart hopes it will create a new generation of Chilean business people with greater insight into the issue of education and its important role in the country’s future.
Tom Azzopardi is a freelance journalist based in Santiago, Chile. He writes about business, energy, mining and tourism. He has contributed to a wide range of publications including AmericaEconomica, BBC Travel, BNA, Breakbulk, bUSinessCHILE, Fodor’s, Mining MX, Northern Miner and Platts.