I was very anxious and excited when I went to Oné Respe for my first day of community work. Oné Respe is a community-based education organization in Santiago, Dominican Republic that fights against racism and other prejudices and hosts three community schools, two of which are located in Santiago. I will be working at their school in the community of Los Perez every afternoon for the practicum part of the CIEE-SL program. What I found at the school was difficult to see. Due to over-enrollment at Los, there were 38 kindergarten students and only one teacher. As an elementary education major, I know that a class of 10 five year olds can be a lot for one teacher to handle, never mind almost 40! In a summer camp in Massachusetts, where I worked with 5-6 year olds, we would say we had had a ‘big group’ any time there were 15 children. I wondered how it was possible for one teacher to do an effective job under such difficult circumstances. Classroom management has to be a struggle, and makes it almost impossible to give much individual attention to each student. I have seen how critical individual student interaction with the teacher is in practicums I have done in elementary classrooms in the US. The strength and dedication of the teachers was clear, but how can these kids receive the attention that they need to learn? If it is a struggle to get individualized attention now, what will happen when they reach older, more academically challenging grades?
The quality of education has been and continues to be an unresolved problem in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is ranked 140 out of 142 countries in Latin America, making the country close to the worst in education. Under a law created in 1997, the Dominican government must spend at least 4% of their GDP on education, but the DR has never even appropriated 2% (Four Percent). As a result, schools often do not have the proper funding to give adequate resources and time to their students. In fact, most students only have a half day of school. The schools at Oné Respe serve younger students in the morning and then older students at night, or vice versa. The lack of resources and time for learning is an unfortunate reality in schools. Can this change?
The new president Danilo Medina believes he will make the change. He says he will put 4% into the budget for education and have every child in school for 8 hours a day (Danilo Medina). These are some big promises, but will he actually do this? Despite protests for this goal, nothing has happened in the past (Campana). Since most of the administration and cabinet members remain the same, it may be very difficult to make this big change. Will the government of the Dominican Republic finally put the education of its children first?
During the Service Learning program site visits in Santo Domingo, we went to USAid and other organizations to learn about the different paradigms of development and what organizations are doing to support development in the Dominican Republic. USAid is a US government program that gives funds and creates programs in the Dominican Republic to help promote development here. In their work with the government, the representative mentioned that they tried to promote ‘transparency’ within the government. The DR is listed in the Transparency Index on corruption as 129 out of 182 countries (New President). There is very little information available about where any of the government funds are actually going. Without this transparency, it is easy for corruption to take place without the public noticing. I wonder if this government corruption is the reason it has been so difficult to put money into the educational development of its people. Only time can tell if the Dominican will achieve the 4% of the GDP. With genuine support from the government, the Dominican Republic can begin to truly develop its people and create a better future for its people.