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September 7, 1998

UCSC team advises educators in Ecuador

By Jennifer McNulty

When UCSC education specialist Carrol Moran and her colleague Katy Stonebloom arrived in Ecuador this summer to help a team of educators develop a national curriculum to foster democracy, they were concerned.

"I asked them where they were in the project, and they said 'We're in diapers,'" recalled Moran. "But when we left two weeks later, we had put together a rough draft of a curriculum for grades one through seven, and we had helped train a talented group of teachers from around the country who will present the material to their colleagues. It was an amazing experience in accomplishing a lot in a short amount of time."

The curriculum effort was administered by the Democracy in Education project of the U.S. Information Service (USIS) and the American Federation of Teachers. The goal of the project is to expose schoolchildren to democratic principles and methods. Moran, coordinator of UCSC's Monterey Bay Educational Consortium, had been involved in a similar endeavor years ago in Nicaragua. Stonebloom, who is working with Moran at UCSC this year, had worked on similar efforts in Nicaragua, Trinidad Tobago, and Albania.

In Ecuador, where years of dictatorship preceded the current fledgling democracy, Moran worked with a curriculum team made up of two university professors, two former teachers now with the Ministry of Education, a member of a children's rights organization, a representative of the teachers' union, and a coordinator for the Esquel Foundation, who organized the two-week session.

"My job was to help this group develop a program for the schools to prepare children to participate in Ecuador's young democracy," explained Moran.

Among the skills and ideas included in the curriculum were cooperative learning, conflict resolution, and constructivist pedagogy, a term that refers to teachers and children working together to develop understanding and knowledge about the world. "One of the ideas is to give children the tools to get information instead of just giving them the information," said Moran.

After asking the Ecuadorians to identify the kinds of skills they thought children would need to participate in society, Moran and Stonebloom helped them develop classroom programs and activities to foster those skills, including elections and debate. The discussions were revealing, recalled Moran.

"In this country, every first grader is usually chosen as student of the week or selected for some leadership position--that's just part of how we help kids develop leadership skills," she said. "But in Ecuador, the curriculum group argued that from kindergarten on, it's clear who the leaders are, and it wouldn't be fair to the kids who lack that natural leadership ability. We also learned that debate is not a part of the political culture in Ecuador. Every day we had these incredible discussions about what's important to teach children about living in a democracy."

As the curriculum was being developed, a core group of teachers from across Ecuador received training in staff development from Stonebloom and held a workshop in a rural village school to try out some of the lessons from the new curriculum. Their first presentation was successful, and those teachers will return to their towns to train their colleagues and begin implementing the curriculum, said Moran.

During a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Moran learned that USIS needs a U.S. agency sponsor to be able to continue their work. Moran is exploring writing a grant in hopes of establishing UCSC as such an agency.

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