Cause and effect- the migration problem

North Morazan

The north of Morazán, in the mountainous north-east of El Salvador is hands down the most beautiful place in the world. Yet it has one of the highest rates of migration in the country of young people seeking opportunity elsewhere. Many are in the USA, most with no legal status to be there.

Why, you would ask, would anyone in their right mind leave the most beautiful place in the world and leave family and children behind to live in the shadows in a foreign land where they are not fully welcome.

Leaving politics aside, where all positions may be justified, let us take a look at cause and effect. The north of Morazán was a free fire zone during the Salvadoran civil war, causing 100% displacement of the civilian population and complete destruction of productive infrastructure. As a volunteer during the 80s in the Colomoncagua refugee camp, across the border in Honduras, I watched the daily bombing runs of Dragonfly jets over Morazán, part of the one million dollars a day in USA military aid to El Salvador. This period marked the beginning of the migration problem, which continues today given the failure of post-war reconstruction in providing economic opportunity.

Regarding President Trump’s remark that the USA should only accept the best, I would argue that we need them here. Our brightest and best went to war in the late 70s and most were killed or maimed. They continue to leave today in search of a means to care for their families. We need to create conditions that allow the brightest and best to stay here and build Morazán into its full potential.

Morazán was not destroyed in one day. It took a decade of pounding and a lot of resources to do it. It will take some time, resources and determination to reach our goal of prosperity.

Amún Shéa is focused on assisting the creation of that reality in which  the brightest and best may prosper and thrive here at home and migration is no longer the only option. It is no magic formula and offers no quick political solution. It is an arduous task, one step at a time, one student at a time, often seemingly against the current.

Public policy is important, but if you would like to join us on the groundwork, building change from this remote territory, we would more than welcome you.

Thank you
Ron Brenneman

 

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Education as a motor for development

Greenhouse
Translated from original article in La Prensa Grafica, El Salvador

Center for Integrated Development Amún Shéa in Perquín, Morazán, achieved a global score of 7.88 in the 2017 national standardized test of learning and skills, PAES. This is the Salvadoran standardized test for high school students and 2017 was our first year of participation. As the results were made known, it was very gratifying to receive the news and the recognition of friends and colleagues. With all its imperfections, PAES is still the only measuring instrument to compare the effectiveness of educational institutions and programs at the national level, creating healthy competition.

The important result for us however, is the validation that a non-traditional program such as ours can “compete on the same playing field” with traditional programs and succeed. Although it is true that throughout its nine years of existence the program has aroused much interest in its educational innovations, it is also true that doubts were raised regarding the soundness of its academic foundation and ability to cover basic subject material.

Amún Shéa is a program of Perkin Educational Opportunities Foundation, PEOF and was created with the aim of supporting the socioeconomic development of northern Morazán through human capacity building, and has adopted a methodology of Problem Based Learning (PBL) through developing applications that offer answers to the needs of the local surroundings.

It was designed as an “educational laboratory” to develop methodology and applications for the official curriculum, with the confidence that this would contribute to the improvement of public and rural education in El Salvador. In 2016 PEOF signed a Cooperation Agreement with the Salvadoran Ministry of Education, MINED, as a pilot project to share the PBL methodology with seven public schools in the municipality of Perquín.

Who attends our school? Our educational program is open to all families who want a comprehensive and non-traditional education for their children. We do not reject any student for economic reasons. PEOF subsidizes on average 75% of students’ tuition.

The financing for the operation of the educational program comes mainly from individuals in the USA, El Salvador, Ireland, Portugal, England, Spain and Germany. It is not an easy task. The growth of the program requires greater financing and a sustained flow of funding. We are looking for partners, both individuals, businesses and organizations to convert the north of Morazán into a true hub of development. We are convinced that human capacity building allows us to create and take advantage of opportunities, and gives positive impulse to socio-economic and cultural changes.

The PEOF program is, in fact, a public-private partnership, where the parties act with respect and obtain mutual benefits. It is part of an effort by MINED to improve and make rural education relevant, in coordination with the private sector and organizations dedicated to development. It is a sign that it is possible to build proposals and solutions from the territory to complement and enrich the national study program.

A single swallow doesn’t make summer. The space created by the PEOF-MINED agreement has allowed a concerted effort enriched by the experience and participation of organizations such as ConTextos, Glasswing, TECHO, Pestalozzi Foundation, Naturaleza El Salvador Foundation, Fe y Alegría Association, CLUSA, the Vice Ministry of Science and Technology and the Foundation for Higher Education (FES).

Our achievements, however modest, have been influenced by the environment. The department of Morazán has been showing a marked educational advance over the national average, for which it is necessary to congratulate Lic. Luis Méndez, departmental director of MINED, and his entire team.

The north of Morazán surprises, and will continue to surprise you. We invite you to come and visit, you will see that it is not as far away as you think.

Ron Brenneman

Sistema de gestión educativa

CIAC

El mundo está repleto de desafíos y oportunidades de una amplitud inimaginable. Resulta inconcebible que hoy día un estudiante todavía esté limitado por un currículum o un plan de estudios rígido. En cambio, un enfoque más ágil y receptivo en la toma de decisiones permite optimizar las oportunidades educativas de los estudiantes individuales.

Con el Centro de Desarrollo Integral Amún Shéa iniciamos un programa de aprendizaje hace nueve años en las montañas de norte de Morazán. Desde el principio la meta era convertir la educación en una herramienta relevante y efectiva para mejorar el bienestar individual y colectivo.

Estos nueve años han estado repletos de retos formidables, descubrimientos inesperados y resultados gratificantes. Tres son las preguntas que nos hacen a menudo: cuál es el currículum que utilizamos, cuál es nuestra metodología, y dónde se forman nuestros docentes.

Podríamos decir que no importan ni el currículum, ni la metodología y tampoco de dónde viene el docente, pero sería un tanto cortante. Lo que queremos enfatizar es que lo más importante es el objetivo del programa. Lo demás son tan solo medios para alcanzar la meta. Si nos enfocáramos en ellos, correríamos el riesgo de solo reemplazar los medios rígidos tradicionales por otros que se terminarían volviendo igual de rígidos y de contraproducentes en el mediano o largo plazo.

En Amún Shéa, nuestro objetivo es crear habilidades de vida y conciencia situacional enfocada. Nuestro protocolo opera en cinco pasos:

  1. Investigación
  2. Invención
  3. Cooperación
  4. Creación y
  5. Publicación

a través de un sistema de gestión educativa, que:

  1. Dé responsabilidad y autoridad;
  2. Utilice información y herramientas disponibles y cambiantes;
  3. Ponga énfasis en los resultados;
  4. Construya redes estratégicas para fortalecer nuestro programa y;
  5. Cree conciencia situacional.

Medimos el éxito por el impacto: el impacto que nuestros estudiantes tienen en sus familias y comunidades, pero sobretodo en ellos mismos. Medimos el éxito en nuestros estudiantes por la soltura, la confianza, la solidaridad y la capacidad para construir soluciones.

El mundo de hoy no solo es diverso en cuanto a oportunidades, sino también se caracteriza por la velocidad de los cambios en la información y en su aplicación. Un ejemplo formidable de ello es la reciente y célebre elección presidencial en los Estados Unidos. El ganador y actual presidente Donald Trump contrató a Cambridge Analytica, una empresa especialista en psicometría, para diseñar su campaña digital. La psicometría se centra en medir rasgos psicológicos como la personalidad a fin de construir mensajes según estos rasgos. Hillary Clinton, por otro lado, confiaba en el apoyo de Google, Facebook, Twitter y otras plataformas digitales tradicionales, debido al éxito experimentado por el primer “presidente de redes sociales”, Barack Obama. Ya conocemos el resultado, pero lo que tenemos que tomar en cuenta es que acabamos de referirnos a Google, Facebook y Twitter como medios tradicionales y prácticamente anticuados. La lección para nosotros es que mientras nuestras escuelas están patinando en la edad del “contenido”, ya pasó la etapa de los“procesos” y ha llegado la actualidad del “pensamiento.” ¿Quién sabe qué nos trae el día de mañana?

La pregunta del millón, entonces, es cuál es el currículum y la metodología y quién es el docente que nos puede mantener al día con esta velocidad de cambio. Podemos inferir que todo enfoque de contenido está condenado a formar parte de una memoria histórica. La etapa del “contenido” finalizó hace tiempo.

Por ello, necesitamos un norte, un objetivo claro pero con suficiente distancia en el horizonte para orientarnos sin encerrarnos. Las habilidades requeridas para la vida actual incluyen conocimientos duros, pero con flexibilidad y agilidad, y sobre todo con una lectura situacional constante.

Los retos son enormes. La tradición, las expectativas de los padres de familia y la burocracia institucional representan filtros que, de una manera u otra, nos aterrizan de nuevo en la realidad. No son del todo negativos, ya que se trata de la preparación de nuestros hijos e hijas y esto exige responsabilidad.

Sin embargo, debemos reconocer que el mayor reto es nuestro propio miedo de tomar la responsabilidad. Iniciar un cambio es un gran paso, y siempre implica enfrentar crítica y oposición. Todo proyecto de innovación real ha pasado por eso, ninguno entra con desfile, fiesta y pompa, sino solo, con miedo y a la defensiva. Es curioso pensar que el método tradicional fue toda una innovación en su momento y pasó por este mismo camino.

Es sumamente importante que entendamos lo dinámico de la situación y que la respuesta no reside en levantar otra “vaca sagrada” para reemplazar la ya pasada de moda, sino más bien en desarrollar un protocolo aplicable para navegar en ella.

La conciencia situacional no solo responde al entorno exterior, sino también efectúa ajustes fluidos al interior del programa y en el desarrollo del mismo protocolo.

Por ejemplo, acabo de darme cuenta de que mientras una persona habla a una velocidad de 150 palabras por minuto, la comprensión funciona a 400 palabras por minuto y los pensamientos de los oyentes corren de mil a tres mil palabras por minuto.  De repente entiendo la razón que explica la distracción de los estudiantes en clase; a partir de ello estamos haciendo los ajustes correspondientes.  

Así, confío en que los treinta mil pensamientos provocados por estas dos páginas, habrán despertado su imaginación y contribuido a su conciencia situacional. Es hora de cambiar la institucionalidad rígida por un sistema de gestión educativo ágil y eficaz.

 

Educational Management System

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From our viewpoint, the world today is replete with challenges and opportunities of an unimaginable depth and width. It is unthinkable that in a period such as this a student should be limited by a curriculum or a fixed study plan.

This world demands an agile and responsive approach in decision making to optimize educational opportunities for individual students. We reject rigid institutional procedure as counterproductive.

Nine years ago we started a learning program in the mountains of northern Morazán, through the Amún Shéa Integrated Development Center. From the outset, the goal was to make education a relevant and effective tool for improving individual and collective well-being.

The nine years have resulted in formidable challenges, unexpected discoveries and rewarding results. Three questions we are often asked are: what curriculum is used; what is the methodology; and where we get the teachers.

We could go so far as to say that the type of curriculum is not important, neither the methodology nor where the teacher comes from, but that would be a bit sharp. What we want to emphasize is that the most important thing is the goal of education. The rest are means to reach the goal and if we are not careful, we will only replace traditional rigid means with others that become just as rigid and counterproductive in the short term.

At Amún Shéa, our goal is to create unassailable life skills and focused situational awareness. This is put into practice with a five step protocol:

  1. Investigation,
  2. Invention,
  3. Cooperation,
  4. Creation,
  5. Publication,

Through an Educational Management System, which requires:

  1. Giving responsibility and authority to both teachers and students;
  2. Utilization of available and changing information and tools;
  3. An emphasis in results over procedure;
  4. Strategic networking to strengthen our core program and;
  5. Instituting situational awareness.

We measure success by the impact our students have on their families and communities, and above all, on themselves. We measure success in our students by their ease, confidence, solidarity and ability to build solutions.

Today’s world is not only diverse in terms of information and opportunities, but also is characterized by the speed of change in that information and its application. A formidable example of this is the recent presidential election in the United States. Winner and current President Trump hired Cambridge Analytica, a specialist in psychometrics, to design his digital campaign. Psychometrics focuses on measuring psychological traits such as personality, and directs messages according to these traits. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, relied on the support of Google, Facebook, Twitter and other traditional digital platforms, because of the success with them for the first “social networking president”, Barack Obama. We know the result, but what we need to take into account is that we have just referred to Google, Facebook and Twitter as traditional and practically outdated. The lesson for us is, while our schools are bogged down in the age of “what we know”, the stage of “what we think” has passed by and come to the current age of “how we think.” Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

The critical question then is what is the curriculum and methodology and what is the teacher that can keep us up to speed with this change. We can infer that any focus of content is doomed to be part of a historical memory. The “what we know” stage ended long ago.

Therefore, we need direction with a clear objective but with enough distance to the horizon to guide us without locking us in. The skills required for today’s life include hard knowledge, but with flexibility and agility, and above all with a constant situational reading.

There are formidable challenges. Tradition and expectations of parents and the institutional bureaucracy represent filters that in one way or another bring us back in reality. These filters are not at all negative, in that they address the preparation of our sons and daughters. Consequently it is a subject that demands responsibility.

However, we must recognize that the biggest challenge is our own fear of taking that responsibility of making changes. Creating a change is always a big step, and always involves facing criticism and opposition. Every real innovational project has gone through that, no one enters with parade, party and pomp, but alone, with fear and on the defensive. Curiously, we could understand that the traditional method which resists change today was quite the innovation in itś time and has passed down this same path.

It is extremely important that we understand the dynamics of the situation and understand that the answer is not to raise another “sacred cow” to replace the old one, but rather to develop an applicable protocol for navigating it.

Situational awareness not only responds to the external environment, but also makes fluid adjustments within the program and in the development of the protocol itself.

For example, I just realized that while a person speaks at a rate of 150 words per minute, comprehension works at 400 words per minute and the thoughts of listeners run from one thousand to three thousand words per minute. Suddenly I begin to understand the reason behind the distraction in class and as such, we are already making the corresponding adjustments.

Likewise, our mind is constantly generating thoughts and ideas while reading, and boring is boring, whether spoken or written. Thus I trust that the thousands of thoughts provoked by these two pages have awakened your imagination and contributed to your situational awareness.

It is high time to change rigid institutionally into an agile and effective educational management tool!

Building the Great Wall

There is certainly much ado regarding the construction of a wall on the border of the United States with Mexico. Known primarily as the Great Wall or Trump’s Wall, the objective is to stop undocumented movement through the southern border.

As with most politically motivated projects, this proposal has created tremendous emotional reactions, both pro and con. In an emotionally charged debate such as this, everyone on both sides of the issue is absolutely convinced they are right. The emotions of this debate are fostered by frustrated illusions on the one hand and fear of unpleasant changes of lifestyle on the other. There is little effort put forth by either side to inject a bit of objectivity into an analysis of the situation. It is within this continuing disorder that a parasitic industry of traffickers, lawyers, jailers, and unscrupulous employers rake in tremendous profits. Many special interests are involved, some representing very powerful financial pursuits and a very few working for a solution.

If the answer to the problem of controlling illegal migration is to be reduced to simply putting an obstacle in the way, that is to build a wall, it is doomed to failure from the start. Actually it would likely result in strengthening the same parasitic industry of human trafficking by provoking an increase in the fare paid for transportation as they become more creative in their methods.

If we are able to overcome the emotional part of the discussion, perhaps we can come to the same conclusion as the American poet Robert Frost, when he wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” That is to say we need some order in the backyard and a clear definition of the boundaries in order to avoid a constant dispute with the neighbor. Remember that a good fence serves in both directions. In looking at El Salvador and the USA, it is clear that a case may be made for mutual accusation of invasion and abuse in recent history. It is also very clear that neither party has been represented by its most favorable spokespersons in this exchange. Fear is not a good advisor to either party. In order to move forward, we must quiet emotions, identify appropriate counterparts and start dealing with this in an objective manner.

In most cases, the decision to set off on the journey to the USA is made with the perception that it is the only option to obtain a decent livelihood. It is not a decision taken lightly. Loved ones are left behind, knowing that some will never be seen again, and children are left with grandparents. The sale of land or debt incurred provides the veritable fortune demanded by the trafficking industry. This is reality for, and is the decision made daily by, dozens of men and women in villages and hamlets throughout El Salvador. We often ask how it is possible that they are willing to give up so much and to risk life itself under such adverse conditions when it is compared to the option of investing a modest amount in their own country. The answer is very simple. The confidence factor. There is little confidence that conditions in the country can actually provide a secure enough opportunity to motivate such an investment.

Following the illusion of the “American Dream” requires a high level of courage and sacrifice. It also demands resignation! This combination forges a determination that will not be interrupted by concrete walls or razor wire. To put this in perspective, most are already paying 20 times the cost of an air ticket, and in addition, are willing to risk their very essence and being on a route fraught with inconceivable dangers. Can any wall actually contain this level of determination?

The only wall feasible for containing the migratory flow from El Salvador to the United States is one that makes it more attractive to stay here than to leave. It must replace the “American Dream” with the “Salvadoran Sueño”. It must be a wall that displaces the perception of migration as the only real economic option. That is a wall built of opportunity, in El Salvador.

The foundation of this wall must be an integrated educational program that prepares the young with a proactive attitude and sense of responsibility, real life skills and opportunities for achievement. This implies a true technical-professional preparation and scientific focus in the development of a new enterprises and technologies. The wall itself must incorporate innovation, investment and open access to all technical information and productive processes. The top of this barrier must be a public policy that motivates initiative and protects local and individual economic activity from outside intervention.

So, let’s come together and build this Great Wall. Let’s create the Salvadoran Sueño that keeps our talent here through a solid program of training and opportunity and keeps your opportunists on your side of the fence.

The practical issue that comes to mind of course, is the cost. Who is going to pay for all of this? A very good question and one which deserves serious discussion. A good question to start with is, who is paying now for the disorder? The information on security and protection costs is readily available for review and is staggeringly high. As an example, in 2015 the daily cost for holding a minor in custody for illegal border entry into the USA was $252. That amount would pay a full scholarship for 45 students at Amún Shéa, a private innovative problem-based learning program in Morazan, El Salvador, which is an area of extremely high migration. Does a 45 to one ratio sound like a good investment?

Mr. Trump, you are a businessman and fully understand the difference between an investment and wasted expenditure. Let’s make a deal and work together on building a wall of education and opportunity that works for both of us. If we accept that good fences (walls) make good neighbors, then great gates may be built as well, wide open and welcoming, making us even better neighbors!

Finding the starting point

img_5791Opportunities for learning have never been more extensive and accessible as they are today. The digital era opens the opportunity for anyone to learn any field, whether academic, technical or artistic.

Everything anyone desires to learn is literally at the distance of their fingertips and often under the guidance of world class experts. The major difficulty is actually choosing an appropriate package for oneself from among the many resources offered. Indeed, the offer is so overwhelming that it exceeds our ability to actually conceive it. Clearly, it is necessary to find a pathway, a starting point from which to navigate.

Some areas  of discussion on education and methodology will be phased out if we really enter into and seize the opportunities of the digital world. The controversial discussion regarding the role of the teacher and the conflict between the focus on content and processes, will tend to dissipate before this magnitude and diversity of learning opportunities.

How is it then that we have not taken full advantage of what the digital age offers? And how can we find that starting point?

From my observation of the educational process, while working in the Amún Shéa School in Morazán, I would argue that the current process of teaching and learning in general is governed by imitation. Many teachers do not teach from their own knowledge of the subjects, but reproduce the style and method of teachers they studied under during their own educational process. This lack of comprehension skills is replicated in students, cycle after cycle. It then radiates out into all areas of society where the norm becomes a game to provide the correct answer, albeit without much real knowledge of the subject.

This same phenomenon can be  observed daily, even outside of school. In my activities in tourism, as owner of the Hotel Perkin Lenca, on a daily basis I see the difficulty of understanding of my employees, suppliers and even the personnel of governmental agencies that visit us.

We have wasted effort and resources on motivational courses, technical training and the development of methodological manuals that in the end produce little progress in the participants. We have been commenting for some time now on the need to teach by example, because the difficulty in transferring new techniques and procedures, via both written and oral, is so evident. It turns out that this does not solve the problem either as it only provides another model to imitate.

Changes in knowledge and processes have reached an unprecedented rate. There is no longer time to imitate. Any copy, very soon becomes obsolete . It may sound extreme, but the accumulation of knowledge and processes is no longer valid. Where then does this leave our educational systems?

Regardless of age or position in society, the future will depend on individual capacity of comprehension, not only for success, but to maintain a minimum level of well-being.

The starting point then, is comprehension. Educational  institutions will maintain their relevance to the extent that they focus on promoting comprehension at three levels: oral, written and social. The concepts of oral and written comprehension are well known and basic. Social comprehension refers to empathy, the understanding of the human condition in others.

Those who are equipped with comprehension have all knowledge at their disposal. No barrier exists that can stop them.

Encontrando el “punto de partida”

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Las oportunidades para el aprendizaje nunca han sido tan amplias y accesibles como hoy en día. La era digital abre la oportunidad de conocer y aprender a cualquier persona en cualquier campo, ya sea académico, artístico o cualquier otra especialidad.

Todo lo que uno desea aprender está a la distancia de sus dedos y a cargo de expertos de respeto, de clase mundial. Incluso, la dificultad actual es elegir el paquete apropiado para uno mismo entre tanta oferta. Es una oferta abrumadora que sobrepasa nuestra capacidad de concebirla. Claramente, se requiere de encontrar un camino, un punto de partida, para navegar en ella.

Algunos temas de discusión sobre la educación y la metodología quedarán desfasados si realmente entramos y aprovechamos las oportunidades del mundo digital. Aspectos polémicos como el rol central del docente o el conflicto entre contenidos y procesos, tenderán a disiparse ante la magnitud y diversidad de posibilidades de aprendizaje.

¿Cómo es entonces que no hemos aprovechado plenamente lo que ofrece la era digital? ¿Y cómo podemos encontrar el punto de partida?

A partir de la observación de la labor de enseñanza en el Centro Escolar Amún Shéa, en Morazán, sostengo que el proceso de enseñanza y aprendizaje actual en general se rige por la “imitación”. Muchos docentes no enseñan a partir de su conocimiento de las materias, sino que reproducen el estilo y método de los docentes que tuvieron en su propio proceso educativo. Esta falta de comprensión se replica en los estudiantes, ciclo tras ciclo, y luego se irradia a todos los ámbitos de la sociedad, donde la norma vuelve un juego de ofrecer la respuesta correcta, sin mayor conocimiento real del tema.

Este mismo fenómeno se observa a diario, aun fuera de la escuela. En mi actividad en la actividad turística, como propietario del hotel Perkin Lenca, observo a diario la dificultad de comprensión de mis empleados, proveedores y hasta del personal de las instancias gubernamentales que nos visitan.

Hemos desperdiciado esfuerzo y recursos para realizar cursos motivacionales, capacitaciones técnicas y elaborar manuales metodológicos para que a final obtengamos pocos avances por parte de los participantes. En Amún Shéa desde hace mucho tiempo hemos venido comentado la necesidad de enseñar con el ejemplo, porque era evidente la dificultad existente para trasladar nuevas técnicas y procedimientos por medios escritos y orales. Resulta que eso tampoco resuelve el problema dado que solo provee otro modelo para imitar.

Los cambios en conocimiento y procesos han alcanzado una velocidad sin precedente. Ya no hay tiempo para imitar. Toda copia, muy pronto, se vuelve desfasada. Decirlo puede sonar extremista, pero ya no hay acumulación de conocimiento ni de procesos válidos. ¿Y entonces, donde quedan los sistemas educativos?

Sin importar la edad o el puesto que se ocupe en la sociedad, el futuro dependerá de la capacidad individual de comprensión, no solo para el éxito, sino para sostener un nivel mínimo de bienestar.

El punto de partida es la comprensión. Las instituciones de educación mantendrán su relevancia en la medida que enfoquen en el fomento de la comprensión a tres niveles: oral, escrito y social. Los conceptos de comprensión oral y escrito son muy conocidos y básicos. La comprensión social se refiere a la empatía, la comprensión de condición humana en las demás personas.

Los que estamos equipados con la comprensión tendremos todo el conocimiento a nuestra disposición. No existe barrera capaz de frenarnos.