Rich Schools, Poor Schools: The Case of Two Cities. Really?

Last month we published English Language Teaching in South America edited by Lía D. Kamhi-Stein, Gabriel Díaz Maggioli and Luciana C. de Oliveira. In this post Lía highlights the similarities between some public schools in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles when it comes to access to technology and pedagogical materials.

In a recently published book, Pomeraniec and San Martín (2016) argue that the notion of countries as being rich or poor is an outdated one. Instead, they support the idea that there are poor countries with cities or areas that experience great economic growth and social development. Along the same lines, Pomeraniec and San Martín (2016) argue that rich countries are not homogeneous. Instead, they have pockets of persistent (and often growing, I would add) poverty and inequality. The latter is the case of the United States. For example, in the state of California, which represents the 7th economy of the world, the educational experience of children enrolled in public schools is dependent on the socioeconomic status (or more specifically on the zip code) of the geographical area in which their public school is located.

As a teacher educator at California State University, Los Angeles, I have the opportunity to observe classes taught by student teachers placed in kindergarten through grade 16 in the Los Angeles county. Public K-12 schools in the county, which includes cities with low, middle, and high incomes, are not significantly different from the schools described by Pozzi in her chapter from our new book titled “Examining Teacher Perspectives on Language Policy in the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina,”. In particular, there are two themes that are common to public schools both in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles. These are: access to technology and pedagogical materials.

In our book, chapter authors describe several initiatives designed to integrate technology in EFL classrooms in South America. While Argentina has implemented a variety of such policies, particularly in relation to the notion of one laptop per child in K-12 and teacher preparation settings, the success of these programs with low-income children is still a work-in-progress. Specifically, in her chapter, Pozzi explains that in low income public schools in Buenos Aires, children and their parents are not trained in how to take care of their laptops, resulting in dramatic cases like those of parents’ washing  laptops as if they were clothes. Additionally, when children bring the laptops to school, the internet connection is limited (a point also made by Veciño in her chapter). While my experiences in low income schools in Los Angeles have not resulted in the observation of dramatic experiences like those observed for Buenos Aires, the reality is that access to laptops in low-income immigrant Latino areas is very limited. Schools in the Los Angeles county keep laptops locked in secured carts. During the school day, laptops are shared across classes and students have access to them to do school work for two to three hours per week, on average. Much like in the case of low-income schools in Buenos Aires, the internet connection in low-income schools in Los Angeles is often problematic; therefore, negatively limiting the use of the internet for instructional purposes showing educational YouTube videos to students. On the other hand, in general, schools in middle and high income areas tend to provide much more extensive access to laptops in the form of one laptop per child, particularly at the higher elementary grades (4th and 5th grades). This results in the integration of laptops for a variety of purposes, which in turn promotes higher student comfort with technology. Given that starting in 3rd grade, all children in California are required to take a battery of computer-based tests focusing on math, English language arts, and science at the end of the academic year, comfort with computers is critical for the students’ successful performance on the test.

Another similarity between low income schools in Buenos Aires and in Los Angeles, for example, is related to pedagogical materials. Pozzi explains that the EFL materials used to teach low income children in Buenos Aires are irrelevant to the students’ lives. Inner Circle materials, used to teach EFL in Buenos Aires, present a reality that is far from the reality that low-income children face in Buenos Aires. In the case of Los Angeles, the problem with materials is that, other than the pedagogical materials sanctioned by the school district, children have limited access to books, manipulatives, etc., that will help them expand on their learning. In contrast, teachers in middle and high income school classrooms have a wealth of instructional programs, materials, and in particular books, that children use at different times of the day for a variety of purposes.

To conclude, Pozzi’s chapter in our Multilingual Matters volume provides an eye-opening description of the complexities involved in the implementation of English language policies in low, middle and high income schools in Buenos Aires. In this blog entry, I took a quick look at schools in the Los Angeles county. In my analysis, I identified at least two similarities between schools in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles; therefore, I propose that we avoid blanket generalizations about countries in general and, more specifically, about the status of English language teaching around the world. In this way, more localized descriptions of the implementation of educational policies will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the impact of such policies.

Lía D. Kamhi-Stein, California State University, Los Angeles

References

Pomeraniec, H., & San Martín, R. (2016). ¿Dónde Queda el Primer Mundo? El Nuevo Mapa del Desarrollo y el Bienestar [Where is the First World? The New Landscape of Development and Well Being]. Buenos Aires: Aguilar.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like The Education of Indigenous Citizens in Latin America edited by Regina Cortina. 

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