I would like to elaborate more on my school and the learning conditions here in Coyhaique. First it is important to point out that the Pinochet regime completely decentralized the education system in Chile. There is no system in place for the federal or regional governments to impose requirements, programs, or accreditation systems on the schools. Each municipality is autonomous. Programs such as English Opens Doors are merely suggestions by the Ministry of Education, but they cannot enforce that all schools in Chile comply. Secondly, resources in schools vary greatly. Municipal schools, such as mine, are the poorest schools and rely completely on public funding. Subsidized schools are in richer communities and some students pay to attend, so they are much nicer. Most of the schools I visited in Santiago were subsidized. And of course there are expensive private schools, which are quite nice but impossible for most families to pay for. Another important point is that Pinochet also imposed a heavy tax on books, and to this day they are an expensive and rare commodity in Chile. Even the nicest schools do not have libraries.
My school, Escuela Victor Domingo Silva, is located on the hillside in Coyhaique, where the nicer houses give way to corrugated steel shanties and dogs roam the rambling dirt roads. Students attend here from 3rd to 8th grade. The school is constantly freezing, as many window panes are broken or missing and the walls and roof provide little insulation. The hallways are unheated, and there is a wood stove in each classroom, but sometimes they are left neglected. I am getting used to wearing several layers with a jacket and long socks to school every day. I am told that the students are sick practically all winter.
There is currently no English teacher at my school, so a teacher who happens to speak English is taking over the classes so that I can complete my two weeks of observation. He teaches about 360 students a week, and class sizes are usually around 40 students. The teachers make little effort to learn students´names, but I can´t blame them as they see so many different faces every day. The students don´t speak a lick of English, so I have my work cut out for me. We can´t plan my schedule until the real English teacher arrives, which always seems to be mañana, so for now I just watch the classes and try to stay warm. Many of the students come from broken families, and discipline problems are huge in 7th and 8th grade classes. Chilean teachers seem pretty uninterested in classroom management. They usually just give up when class starts to get crazy.
A big plus is that the students are genuinely interested in me. The most frequent question they ask is whether on not I witnessed the World Trade Center bombing. September 11 is the date of the military coup that overthrew Salvador Allende, so it is a somber memory for Chileans as well.
I am looking forward to starting real work with these students and moving into my own "English Only" classroom. I mostly hope I can provide them with a fun experience and safe space to look forward to each day. If they learn a little bit of English, all the better.