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Fighting for Education for All in Nicaragua

April 17, 2010

This article is cross-posted at Equality 101.

In 2002, a charismatic Nicaraguan friend and I co-founded a Free High School for Adults in her town, San Juan del Sur. We believe in education for all. We give a first-rate education to all those whom the daily high schools exclude: pregnant girls, mothers (but not fathers), people who work all week, anyone over eighteen. (Going to the FHS has rescued at least one woman from violence, by giving her the power to confront her abuser.) We have conferred 300 diplomas, opening doors economically and raising self-esteem. These people have talents that are golden for Nicaragua.

At the beginning of the school year, when I was in San Juan, my colleagues and I were shocked at a new system promulgated by the Ministry of Education. Symbolically, they changed the very names of the schools, like ours, that give the same diploma as the other daily high schools but that meet only on Saturdays. The daily schools are called regular. We now struggle under the abject label, “irregular.” I reject the name. For me, we are super-regular.

Photo by Margaret Morganroth Gullette

(Any 568 students who can learn in 48 Saturdays a year what other students take 200 days to learn have to be pretty super. A majority of our students are girls and women. A majority are rural. All super.)

The name change downgrades every institution that serves the rural poor. They earn their elementary-school diplomas in “multi-grades” (one teacher for all six years). The government has suddenly decided that the multi-grades are also “irregular”–so inferior that their graduates are prohibited from attending “regular high schools.” Not only does the Ministry not provide an acceptable education to rural children, it punishes them in adolescence for their supposed deficiencies.

N.B. We accept almost 200 students a year from the multi-grades, and they do just fine in our classes. One young woman from the one-room schoolhouse in nearby Cebadilla was just invited to apply to Academia, the most prestigious high school in the country. Many of our high-school grads go on to technical schools or universities.

Obviously these new policies are discriminatory and insulting–to the hard-working teachers in the multi-grades, to the students who work so hard, to family members who feel betrayed by their government. The Ministry of Education meanwhile in his rhetoric is surprised that there are so few students in the secondary schools.

My co-founder, Dr. Rosa Elena Bello, fighting as always for the disadvantaged, went

Dr. Rosa Elena Bello

to see the Director of the Mongalo, a regular high school, who agreed to accept sixth-graders with multi-grade diplomas.

Rural students already attending the Free High School were about to be excluded too. We teach the first, second, and third years of high school in their home communities. Students from our rural (“irregular”) classes who wanted to move to the Mongalo, this year could enroll only if they were willing to start over again in the first year!

Rosa Elena talked the regional superintendent of Schools into sending a circular to all the high schools in the region, inviting our students to attend at the level they had achieved in our classrooms. This was a vindication of the quality of our teachers and students.

While cutting his budget, Minister Miguel de Castilla is institutionalizing two classes of citizens. They are making second-class citizens out of people for nothing more than for being poor. For being campesinos (sharecroppers and small-holders). For having to work. For being mothers.

If there were no Free High School for Adults, they would have no future. Where no Free High School for Adults exists–all over Nicaragua, in other words–they will have no future.

It is self-destructive to keep these talents buried. Nicaragua regresses to its blind pre-revolutionary days.

Meanwhile, the Free High School is beloved by the people, and more necessary than ever.

The Newton-San Juan Sister City Project, a 501 c) (3), serves as the passthrough to The Free High School. Volunteers like me do the fund-raising. 100% of every donation goes to program activities. There is not an online donation form, but if you’re interested in supporting this amazing school, you can send a check made out to “Newton SCP” with “Free High School” in the memo line, to the Treasurer, Don Ross, 211 Winslow Road, Waban, MA 02468.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette has been raising funds for adult education programs in San Juan del Sur since 1997. She is the author of Aged by Culture and Declining to Decline. She is Resident Scholar, Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University. Her oped, “Botando el concepto de Igualdad en Nicaragua,” appeared in El Nuevo Diario, a Nicaraguan daily.  You can see her Facebook Cause page here.

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