It is easy to get caught up in the many wonderful and enriching extracurricular programs at Safe Passage here, such as English, health education, computer skills, art, music, and sports. That means one of the most important, parts of our program may sometimes be overlooked—homework time!
All of the students receive regular homework from their schools, and some of them, especially in the higher grades, have a ton! Though many kids might change this part of the schedule at Safe Passage if they could (opting, I might imagine, for some more soccer?), they have the time they need each day to sit down and work on their homework in an organized classroom setting with a teacher present to assist with any troubles they may run into. But it’s just doing homework; no big deal right? Actually, it might be…
I recently chatted with Karen Dubón, Director of Social Development here at Safe Passage, about the importance of homework to the kids’ futures and the obstacles they face when working to excel in this often overlooked aspect of their education. It turns out that in many schools in Guatemala, homework accounts for around half of a student’s overall grade! If a student doesn’t do homework, there is almost no chance of him or her passing.
Karen went on to talk about why it might not be so easy for many of the kids we work with to simply go home and do their homework for the next school-day. Some of the homes they live in do not have electricity, families with six or more children may be living in a space of no more that a couple of small rooms, there is often not a table or desk space for doing work, parents are frequently illiterate and would not be able to help with any questions, and there might be work to be done around the house rather than schoolwork. All of that is on top of the fact that they are just kids, and if they are anything like I remember of myself growing up, many would probably prefer to avoid doing homework at all costs! These odds are definitely not stacked in their favor.
After our conversation, I became more curious about the educational situation for youth in Guatemala, so I did some research to learn more. Among the 92,129 first-graders enrolled in public schools across the country of Guatemala for 2007, (the most recent year on which figures could be found), about 15% had to repeat the grade. In addition, 5,948 of all first-graders, or 6.5%, dropped out of school during the course of the year. That means that a total of around 21.5% of first-graders in Guatemala did not complete their first year of school on schedule, if at all. Even though these numbers were taken from the Guatemala Ministry of Education, many feel that the actual figures are even worse. Every day in Antigua and Guatemala City, not unlike the rest of the country, I notice so many kids of all ages working on the streets—selling candy, shining shoes, running shops—which means they are not going to school.
Hanley Denning made tutoring a priority when she first founded Safe Passage and today it remains as a backbone of
the program—a major key to moving the kids forward through each year of school and seeing them through until the end. In the country of Guatemala, and particularly for the kids of Zones 7 and 3 surrounding the municipal dump of Guatemala City, it is an uphill battle to fight. Despite this, we get to see many sweet victories, even if it is something as seemingly small as a student finishing his or her homework for the day.
Glad not to have any homework tonight,