Thursday, June 06, 2013

Competition in Chilean Education

"Parents, as you know the openings for school applications begin in August. Thus we will be testing the students this month of June, and will have the results available for you after winter break in July. Please make copies of the results to submit to the school(s) of your choice, as we will need the originals to include with the final test results at the end of the year in December."

If all you had to go by was the above paragraph, what age children and/or stage of schooling would you assume I was describing?

If you guessed college ... you'd be wrong. If you guessed high school ... you'd be wrong. If you guessed Jr. High ... wrong again. Even if you guessed elementary school ... nope.

We're talking Kindergarten, people.

We're talking four-year olds being "tested" and prepped for entrance exams to the more elite schools in town. And what makes them elite? That's another interesting scene.

"Parents, you are each receiving a copy of the government-issued results of last year's SIMCE. Each school in our city is ranked according to how well their 8th-grade (or 4th grade) students tested on this national exam."

Depending on how well their school scored, teachers hand out the pamphlet without making eye contact or with head held high and a satisfied smile. And then parents scurry to examine the results and cluck and sigh (or smile and pat themselves on the back) according to what they find. The higher the ranking, the supposedly better the school. 

Yet I know from hearing stories and talking to other moms that those "better" schools often teach to the test, and find ways to weed out less than stellar students to maintain their special standing. Frankly, I find it annoying and frustrating but I'll admit, a little bit silly and entertaining. However, I know that I can only afford the luxury of laughter because as a foreigner I am not locked into this system. If I were to choose to home school, I could. If I wanted my kids to join an online school from the States, I could. But my parental counterparts in Chile cannot.

That is sobering. I feel for the Chilean moms and dads around me who truly feel stressed about the educational future of their 4-year old child. I feel for the pre-school teacher who tells me that the pressure is on her to bring the child's performance up to par or be blamed for his or her failure to pass a Kindergarten entrance exam.

At the same time, I am thankful for this glimpse of the cultural reality in which we serve which heightens my awareness of the struggles and needs around us. Because while education is valuable and necessary, there is something and Someone that is worth so much more. And passing His "entrance exam" is all that truly matters!

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