By Enrique Reid
As we only questioned people in the city of Antigua, I think it would be unfair to extrapolate our discoveries to the entire nation. Despite this, there were some interesting findings that the Guatemalan people shared with us.
They informed us that the Guatemalan school year begins in January and ends in October, in general there are around 4 schools per city (except for Guatemala City where there are many more), private schools cost a substantial amount of money and they also teach English while public schools are free and they don’t teach English. One can also specialize in certain fields in high school, before college, allowing them to get a head start in their field of choice. Labor for short-term gain and/or survival seemed to be more prevalent than advanced education that may lead to long-term gain leading to a large percentage of the population working at a young age, in poverty and with low access to opportunities. This could be seen in the streets even without asking the locals. Additionally, transportation to educational institutions has a large impact on students as it is highly dependent on financial status, and those that have to walk long and hard to school get a lot more time and energy taken out of them than those that are driven to school by a schauffer. Both the Mayan heritage side and the Spanish influence side of Guatemalan history is taught at public schools, yet there seems to be little focus on pre-colonization Mayan history and only the Mayan side of history from when the Spanish conquered Central America.
Education is very different for each person, and hearing the locals’ personal and general views on education in Guatemala proved to be extremely fascinating and unique to each individual. In general, the people were very welcoming and understanding of our low Spanish ability even though we were in their country. Regardless if they understood us or not, everyone tried their best to help us to the best of their ability, and those that did speak English answered us with more enthusiasm and information than we could have hoped for. The desire to sell was apparent; after questioning a merchant they always advertised their product to the best of their ability. Due to the economy, and many other more influential factors, most were working long hours and making barely enough to feed their families.
We could also tell that there was a lot of education based on necessity; when asking how a merchant that we spoke to had such good English, she told us that she had learned the language by selling her hand-woven fabrics to English speaking tourists and through her children. Many others had similar stories. Although there are numerous differences in culture, betweent of those I have lived in, and that of the Antiguan people, due to the surrounding environment, access, and education, at a fundamental level we are all the same, have the same needs and desires, and have similar relationships.
In the future, it may be interesting to explore, in more depth, the foreign impacts on education in different regions of Guatemala and how education in populated cities compare to education in small towns. Although public school is free of cost, the people that we spoke to made it very clear that money was the bigggest factor in deciding how good of an education one has, which, ideally, should not be the case.