In Retrospect: Education in Argentina

(Now that we’re home from our journey – we still have many thoughts, insights and observations to share post-exchange…in retrospect)

In every community we visited across the Buenos Aires Province and in Santa  Rosa, education was a constant in our conversations. Whether our host families were employed in the education system as teachers/professors, had children in primary, secondary or university, or whether we were meeting with students in English classes in secondary school or private institutes – it was a strong presence.

And like the common refrain heard across America, most Argentinians expressed the desire for an improved education system, particularly in the primary and secondary levels.

While no  blog post can ever attempt to summarize all of education in Argentina, among the observations and moments remembered:

– The impact of fmr President, Argentine Ambassador to the US and Superintendent General of Schools for the National Education Ministry Domingo Sarmiento (from the late 1800’s). Per Wikipedia:

“Historian David Rock notes that, beyond putting an end to caudillismo, Sarmiento’s main achievements in government concerned his promotion of education. As Rock reports, “between 1868 and 1874 educational subsidies from the central government to the provinces quadrupled.”He established 800 educational and military institutions, and his improvements to the educational system enabled 100,000 children to attend school…He assumed the post of Superintendent General of Schools for the National Education Ministry under President Roca and published El Monitor de la Educación Común, which is a fundamental reference for Argentine education. In 1882, Sarmiento was successful in passing the sanction of Free Education allowing schools to be free, mandatory, and separate from that of religion.”

– The impression of seeing young kids in what first appeared to be doctor’s coats. The white smocks/lab coats are worn by all primary students in the public schools as a way to equalize everyone. You are not judged upon what you wear – everyone has potential. (Photos below)

– The universal frustration/unhappiness with the quality of the public education system for the primary and secondary students. Many families chose to send their kids to private schools, and/or to have them attend institutes where they learned English. Most of the pre-teens and teens we met had been taking English for more than 5 years already.

– On the flip side – the pride and accessibility to higher education in Argentina was lauded.  In Argentina, the public universities are considered superior in quality to the private. AND – the public universities are free to all residents. However free is subjective – it doesn’t include housing, books, food, transportation, etc. 

– Like in America, college campuses often showcase voices of frustration and discontent. We saw an example of that democratic spirit at work in the hallways of one small part of the National University of the Central Buenos Aires Province. That spirit was also on display in a chilling piece of campus public art – featuring a crushed Ford Falcon, a symbol of the oppression and military rule of governments in the past. (Photos below)

– Like in Idaho, the higher education system is dealing with the need to educate a populace in both agricultural and engineering/technology arenas. We saw both at play in the National University of Central Buenos Aires Province during our visit to the various Technology/Science colleges and the expanding veterinary school. (Photos below)

– We had the honor of speaking to several English classes, both at the secondary level with 14 & 15yr olds and in the institute level with 20-somethings. Their prowess with English and the quality of questions they asked were among the most thought-provoking we encountered during our trip. It was also embarrassing to come face to face with the realization that the American education system doesn’t emphasize the need to develop global citizens the way other countries do. (Photos below)

– During this time of uncertainty and change in Argentina, the quality of education is top of mind. This quote from Pres. James Garfield on the importance of an educated populace seems particularly apropos to what many Argentinians expressed:  

“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education,
without which neither freedom nor justice can be maintained. ” 

– Jessica