Students here, as well as in many classrooms in “the States,” play the game of school, biding their time until they can do something that is important to them. Most teachers here have not received a raise in the last ten years. They earn on avg (that’s Average!) $25,000/year, out of which they have to purchase all of the materials for their classes. That’s everything from paint on the walls and cleaning supplies to books, art materials, science lab supplies, computers, and on and on. 30 years ago, Puerto Rican education was the pride of the Caribbean. Then the economic slide began (facilitated by the cutting of US subsidies during the GWBush admin, especially tax benefits for American companies doing business here), and with it, many educated residents began leaving. From 2005-2015 450,000 people left Puerto Rico, including many professionals and skilled workers. This split Puerto Rican families, and forced PR into debt and into corrupt and malicious contracts. Let’s not forget that Puerto Rico is a colony of the US, ever since the US liberated it from Spain in 1898 (codified under the Jones Act in 1917). Amazing teachers have struggled through this to bring lively lessons to their students anyway, many of them staying even while other family members left because they were so committed to the children. They still are.
Today’s meeting started with a visit from Julia Keleher, the controversial PR Sec’y of Education. She is not Boricua (what Puerto Ricans call true islanders), not one bit. She spoke (in Spanish of course) about the importance to Puerto Rico of a new generation of innovative thinkers, and also of how difficult these times are for PR families and for her. She said to us before the meeting that she wanted us to do a design thinking workshop for her and other decision-makers. Maria Christian (deputy) sat with us today, and many of the regional heads, as well as subject area directors and the Echar Pa’lante leadership team. Key concepts that came out of the meeting: earlier trainings in PBL are not consistently being put into practice. There are too many obstacles (see above). Additionally, teachers have not really been able to recover because they have constantly been shifted around to different schools because of the loss of students (about 35,000 since the storm) and very many teachers, as well as the inability of many school buildings to host classes. The top-down way that it was introduced and the way that administrators got training in evaluating it before teachers got training in what it was meant that there is a perception that there is no room to take risks or iterate. Additionally, there is confusion about what PBL is. They have used the title broadly, sweeping in several additional methods including design thinking (see the rest of the City 2.0 website you are on now). One problem with doing this is that teachers who are trying to “do PBL right” google it and get mixed and insufficient messages because PBL is actually a thing and there are better and worse websites and approaches, and because the DE imagines something more than PBL—to include creative human-centered problem solving. We ended with a very exciting research project in a partnership between Yale, the National Science Foundation, and Echar Pa’lante, to study the effectiveness of PBL curriculum to help students deal with the effects of the storm.