Day 3. Evaluation and Future Possibilities
The initial proposal for this evaluation and planning session was to include a relatively small group of key persons, including selected participants from the workshops who represented the Education Department and other institutions involved in community organization and in the children’s education, health,and welfare.
However the decision was made—in the spirit of inclusiveness—to invite ALL the participants from the previous 2 days of workshops. To my amazement, nearly everyone showed up, including the schoolchildren, disabled children with their parents, schoolteachers, special education teachers, representatives from a wide variety of relevant government programs, and spokesperson from the teachers union—nearly 80 people.
The Evaluation was facilitated largely by Professor Juan Hurtado, Director of the State Technical Council on Education (CETE), the moving force behind the Workshop. In the spirit of the child-centered approach we had been using, the first persons he asked to state their impressions of the workshop and what they had learned were the children. The children, who had been rather timid when they began the day before, fearlessly began to speak out. The following are some of their recorded comments:
Girl: “I felt very happy to share with the other children.”
Boy: “I learned that being disabled doesn’t mean to lose hope. Different children can help each other.”
Blind boy: “I liked to work with the other children and touch things.”
Boy: “I learned from Yonathan (a blind boy) how to make things with clay.”
Boy: “Disabled people can teach us lots of things.”
Girl: “They can do some things better than we can.”
Boy: “I liked working with other children on caring for people with diarrhea and malnutrition”
Boy: “I liked working with Melchor and Yonathan (two visually impaired boys) on nutrition.”
The teachers and educators also had many positive responses, among them:
“The activities we explored were very simple but illustrated more constructive methods. I hope to incorporate these approaches into my teaching.”
“I liked the way we learned to teach about loss and replacement of liquids in children with diarrhea, and the possibilities of incorporating these methods into our curriculum.” “It’s important that we teachers act as facilitators.”
“When we use discovery-based learning techniques, the students learn to reflect for themselves and their learning is more significant.”
“We saw examples of how disabled children can help each other.”
“Today I felt a real warming of my soul. The reason: the children.”
“What was important in these activities is that they sensitized us to respect, support, and care for disabled persons. We saw that the children without disabilities took pride in interacting with those with disabilities.”
“The workshop allowed me to observe the whole process of teamwork and to learn about the organization and development of the Child-to-Child activities. But it also made me more aware of the commitment and support of parents—their love for their children—as well as the affection and abilities of the special educators.”
“All the participants had a very positive attitude, and took part in the different activities with expressions of interest, confidence, and pleasure.”
One mother of a little girl with cerebral palsy begged to have a group of the children conduct a disability-oriented Child-to- Child activity in her daughter’s classroom, feeling that it would help both her classmates and the teacher be more understanding and welcoming.
The children were excited about the idea of sharing what they learned with other children in their schools. They were especially eager to carry out Child-to-Child activities that could help protect the health of pre-school children in the community, such as the nutrition project, and management of diarrhea (oral rehydration). The children’s teachers said they would gladly work with them to carry out these activities and teach others. The teacher who had brought most of the children seemed especially eager.
Prospects of Introducing the Child-to-Child Process and Discovery-Based Learning Methods into the School System
Most people agreed that the pragmatic, inclusive, empowering, and socially relevant approaches to teaching explored in the workshop were consistent with the overall goal of “culturally appropriate educational reform” promoted by the current Michoacán Department of Education. But everyone realized that the obstacles to introducing such potentially liberating changes are substantial.
As Professor Hurtado repeatedly emphasized, “We will have to move fast.” A big problem in Mexican politics is that a totally new government administration comes to power every 6 years, with completely new leadership, since re-election is not permitted. The entire bureaucratic hierarchy is replaced, including the directors and top personnel of all ministries and programs. New cronies and political colleagues are appointed. Hence many transformative initiatives in progress are abandoned and lost. Unfortunately, in the state of Michoacán, the current, relatively progressive government of the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) is currently in the last of its 6 years in power (2001- 2007). Because of a plethora of unresolved problems in Michoacán, with the next elections a more conservative party is likely to replace the PRD. If the proposed educational reforms—including those advocated in our workshops—are to be introduced into the school system, they must be developed, tested, and legislatively built into the school curriculum while the PRD is still in charge. Once they become part of the approved curriculum, these are far more likely to survive the upcoming change in government. Indeed, the bureaucratic inertia of the new establishment may impede the undoing of the progressive agenda of a “pedagogy of liberation” designed to build a fairer, more egalitarian social order.
The progressive educators spearheading these pedagogic reforms, although hopeful, are nonetheless realistic. The obstacles to humanizing bureaucratic institutions are enormous. As Juan Hurtado admitted, “It will be wonderful if we can build some of this methodology into the state-wide school system. But in truth, it is more likely to infiltrate the system little by little. With these workshops, we’ve sown seeds in the minds of some of our most committed teachers, who will work to introduce the methods in their schools and among their colleagues. Good ideas are contagious!”
Inclusion From the Bottom Up: The Example of Dolores Vicencio
Fortunately, Dr. Dolores Vicencio, who runs a Community Based Rehabilitation Program in the Pátzcuaro area of Michoacán, was present during the evaluation of the Morelia Workshop. While the debate on mainstreaming disabled children in the state has been going on with little official progress, Dolores has quietly but successfully been working to include individual disabled children into specific schools. She has won the cooperation of teachers, involved local villagers to help build ramps for easier access, and engaged schoolchildren in awareness-raising Childto- Child activities. (See Newsletter from the Sierra Madre # 58). Dolores provides an inspiring example of how committed persons can forge ahead with inclusive action despite bureaucratic obstacles.
After the Workshop, Dolores and I, with Juan Hurtado of CEE, had productive meetings both with the Minister of Education and with key persons in the Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL). In the future they will be looking to Dolores as a resource, both for mainstreaming disabled children in a sensitive manner, and for designing more appropriate training for Community Health Promoters, which urgently needs to be done. This inter-bureaucratic collaboration and involvement of Dolores, alone, made the Workshop more than worthwhile.
A Proposed Collaborative Plan for a Pilot Project
1. The need for greater cooperation between similar government programs.
One of the positive outcomes of the Child-to-Child workshop was that it brought persons together from different ministries and departments working on child education, health, welfare, and social development. In the past, a big problem has been the almost total lack of coordination or communication between these different initiatives. In Michoacán at least 3 government programs concerned with child health exist at the community level. The Department of Health (SSA) has trained about 1200 Community Health Promoters, and the Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL) has trained about 900 Community Health Promoters. Yet there is little interaction between these two groups, which in some ways promote procedures that are incompatible. Both do some constructive work in terms of preventive measures and health education. But while the SSA promotores are involved in allopathic medical campaigns (such as immunization), the SEDESOL promotores promote a variety of alternative interventions ranging from herbal medicine, to homeopathy, to “microdoses of modern medicines,” to cleansing massage, to yoga, to “diagnostic mapping” of the feet and ears. Many of these health promoters from both agencies are respected members of their communities who genuinely want to protect and improve the health of their neighbors, especially children. It is a shame there isn’t more coordination between the two groups, so that everyone can learn to combine the best of both modern and traditional health practices, while rejecting that which is ineffective or even harmful.
Apart from these two genres of promotores, there is a third government program promoting child health at the community level. This is CRECER: Program for Child Nutrition for the State of Michoacán, initiated during the six-year reign of President Fox. CRECER (the Spanish word “to grow”) is a growth monitoring and nutritional program for pre-school children. It involves teaching mothers to periodically measure the upper arm circumference of children under 3 years old, and to provide better nutrition to those at risk. The methodology is very similar to the one we introduced in the Child-to-Child workshop, except that we have school children do the measuring rather than mothers. The Director of CRECER in Michoacán, Dr. Armando Aguirre, only happened to learn about our Child-to-Child workshop by chance the night before it began, and because he was familiar with my books, decided to attend. Dr. Aguirre was very excited about the idea of including schoolchildren as “promoters of good nutrition,” and is eager to work more closely with the schools’ Child-to-Child initiative.
2. A cooperative plan: the first phase.
The Educational Commission (CEE) headed by Juan Hurtado is now trying to formulate a strategy to move toward integrating the Child-to-Child approach into the standard school system. One of the ideas for a first phase of the process is to start with a pilot program in the town of Huaniqueo (an hour from Morelia), where the CEE has already been coordinating measures of educational reform with projects for community health and development. I had a chance to visit a community action in Huaniqueo on the day before our workshop began, and the level of enthusiasm was high.
A tentative plan for the pilot Child-to- Child program will involve close cooperation between three separate programs:
SEDESOL, with its community health promoters as “itinerant Child-to-Child facilitators,”
The Department of Education, with its primary school teachers and pupils, with the CEE in a coordinating role,
and, if possible, CRECER, the federal child nutrition initiative.
The plan will be to train a carefully selected group of community health promoters in the skills of facilitating a few of the most basic Child-to-Child activities using a discovery-based, hands-on methodology. Then the promotores would function as “itinerant Child-to-Child facilitators,” visiting different schools and introducing these Child-to-Child ideas and practices in the classroom, while at the same time helping the teachers to understand the process.
With the help of SEDESOL and the CEE, this pilot project would be monitored, documented and further adapted to the local situation. When feedback is analyzed and some of the wrinkles have been worked out, a scaling- up process will begin and the Child-to- Child initiative will hopefully be integrated into to the statewide school curriculum.
The Possibility of a Real Impact on Child Health—as Well as Educational Reform
Three of the biggest causes of poor health and death in pre-school children are malnutrition, diarrhea, and pneumonia. In each of the areas, school-aged children can learn simple techniques of early detection and timely action that can make a real difference in the health, development and survival of younger children in their most vulnerable years.
In addition, by conducting their own very basic surveys on the health status of preschool children in their communities, they can provide an “evidence based” determination of the results. Not only does this make their schooling more relevant to the pupils’ health and lives, but it can potentially have a significant impact on community health-at many levels.
Dr. Armando Aguirre, head of CRECER in Michoacán, told me that a recent study on the impact of their nutrition program had proved discouraging. There was no demonstrable difference between the families included in the nutrition program and those who were not. This is one of the reasons why Dr. Aguirre is so interested in trying a new approach, mobilizing schoolchildren in the monitoring and improvement of young children’s nutrition. If the empowering, discovery-based, everyone-help-each-other methodology is used, I think the chances are great that significant health improvements can be demonstrated.
As the group of child actors cried out at the end of “The Measles Monster” street theater skit in Nicaragua, “¡LOS NIÑOS UNIDOS JAMÁS SERAN VENCIDOS!” (THE CHILDREN UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED!)
The prospects are as enormous as the obstacles.