Sara Zampierin

Sara Zampierin (Supporting Kids in Peru - SKIP): Sara was born and raised in California. She graduated from Rice University in Houston, Texas, with a bachelor's degree in mathematical economic analysis, policy studies and managerial studies. During her undergraduate studies, Sara worked with a mentoring program for at-risk elementary students. She also worked with the Center for Capital Assistance, a nonprofit organization that conducts mitigation investigations and assists attorneys who represent people on Death Row. After her fellowship, Sara wrote: "I understand now how much a community-based organization can do with such a close, personal relationship with its members, and with just a little support from organizations like AP they can really spread their message."

Indefinite time… and reasons

15 Jul

This blog is in response to a post on the blog, “Educational Equity, Politics & Policy in Texas.” As a part of my AP fellow position, I feel that it is important to express my views and what I have seen firsthand in working with SKIP. Hopefully, I can spread awareness of this issue beyond Peru, because education is truly a universal right that is due to these children.

From the perspective of someone currently working in Peru with an education-focused NGO, I do not think this reaction by the teachers is understandable.

In the past 15 years, teacher strikes have caused students to miss 167 days. Since the entirety of public school is 10 grade levels, this amounts to almost two-thirds of a school year missed over those 10 years.

This strike isn’t the first time the teachers have responded in a negative way to attempts to elevate the quality of teachers. For example, after it was announced last year that they would be required to take an exam, the teachers union got a hold of a copy and posted it on their website. Once a new one was created, they demanded teachers boycott the test. Four out of five teachers still took it, but half of these teachers failed the elementary-level math questions and a third failed reading comprehension.

It’s no wonder the students in Peru do so badly in comparison to other nations. In the 2000 PISA test of 15-year old students from 43 countries, Peru children had the worst average score in all three tests of reading, math, and science literacy. To put this into perspective, in mathematic literacy the United States ranked 20th out of the 43 countries. Peru’s average score was lower than the scores of 95% of the children in the US, with similar results on the other three exams. Throughout my education classes in college, I constantly lamented about the state of education in the US, especially for those students who were perpetually stuck in the lowest-performing schools. Imagine an entire country where the norm is those schools.

During this most recent strike, some of the teachers have been involved in violent protests— blocking roads and airports, fighting with police, and even killing a child who got caught in the middle of a rock-throwing fight between teachers and police. Now that the law has successfully been passed that forces teachers to pass an exam, they have changed their position in order to continue the strike. They are now demanding more government spending for education before going back to work.

It’s understandable that these teachers are worried about losing their jobs, judging by the results of the last exam. However, why not demand more teacher training or support for these exams instead of refusing to be held to any standards? It is also understandable that these teachers want more money from the government for education, and I completely agree. But it’s hard to justify that by striking they are really helping the children when these kids are kept out of the schools and not able to learn.

Anticipating a long strike, the teachers gave the children stacks of worksheets as “homework” to do during the strikes, and sent them home to somehow learn this material on their own. With parents who often did not attend school, a lack of educational resources, and a weak foundation of basic skills and education, how do they expect these children to understand new material on their own?

The children enrolled in our program have been coming to SKIP every day, some in both the morning and afternoon. When some of the older children beg me to teach them more English, or another asks for help with learning fractions (starting from what a fraction even is and going all the way through to adding, subtracting, etc), how can I say no?

Peru has solved one of the first major problems in education, in having 90% of the school-aged children enrolled in school and getting these children excited to learn. I see it every day, when our kids line up at the SKIP offices before we even get there or fight over what new vocabulary they want to learn in English. The government and the teachers both need to do their parts to make sure it is worth it for these children, and that they are getting the education they desire and deserve.

Now, the trouble is getting that message through to both groups…

Sixth grade girls Maria and Vanessa practicing their new vocabulary (and correcting each other)

Posted By Sara Zampierin

Posted Jul 15th, 2007


  • Marilu Del Carpio

    July 16, 2007


    No one could have said it better. The children are hungry for knowledge, parents want to ensure the future of the children, but the political forces keep getting in the way – things are getting quite ugly down there and they still don’t realize that the only ones loosing are the children. You are doing a great job and I think that not only the children in Peru are benefiting from it but also us your readers because we are able to get your direct observations and appreciate how lucky we are in the US. I do elieve the government is doing the right thing and that the teachers and their union are just looking for ways to destabilize the country.

  • Melissa

    July 17, 2007


    Amazing how something we were able to take for granted growing up is such a challenge in so many other places. I would be interested to know how long it took to resolve these previous strikes you are writing about. I will definitely be following to see what happens with this one. Keep up the good work!

  • sara

    August 2, 2007


    I do realize I have been very critical of the strikes, but I feel that SKIP is on the side of the children. If that means criticizing the government or the teachers from time to time, it is because they are not doing what is best for the children—including refusing to teach for 15 days because they do not want to take a test. I also should say that this strike seems to have been more about the teacher’s union than the actual teachers—we had teachers in Trujillo who came back to teach before the strike was over because they did not agree with it (at least at the schools where the directors did not lock the doors).

    I think some of the teachers are oblivious that they are hurting the children’s chances at an education when they go on strike. They still give the children the same amount of homework they would have had, and some of them don’t bother to explain this homework or teach the kids how to do it even when they are having classes. In my opinion, the teachers union should demand better training instead of refusing to take this test—since so many of them cannot pass it, the government cannot possibly fire them all because they would be left with not enough teachers.

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