Challenges and lessons of rural education – La Tercera

By Gonzalo Plaza, executive director of Fundación 99 and Paula Pinedo, executive director of EducAraucanía

On April 7, the Day of Rural Education was commemorated, in homage to the birth of the poet and Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Gabriela Mistral. The outstanding teacher deeply knew her rural childhood. That childhood that today continues to face great challenges as a result of the pandemic, which came to increase the social and educational gaps that, unfortunately, they have experienced for decades, despite the fact that 76% of the communes in our country are rural.

According to data from the Ministry of Education, rural education serves 279,369 students, 26% belonging to indigenous peoples, who attend 3,467 establishments throughout the country (29.54% of the national total). Regarding the socioeconomic situation of rural children and youth, 37.4% of people living in rural areas are in a situation of multidimensional poverty compared to 18.3% of people living in urban areas.

The pandemic has highlighted the lack of connectivity, lack of technological devices and lack of educational resources specific to rural contexts. For example, only 10% of students have a good Internet connection, a key issue when delivering remote solutions. This is added to historical difficulties such as the distance between schools and urban centers (in the most extreme case, in the commune of San Gregorio the average time in minutes to the nearest basic education establishment is 117.21 and in secondary education are 556.31) and the lack of specific training in rurality for teachers (8 out of 10 have never received it).

But despite the difficulties described, the entire educational system has much to learn from rural education, in terms of school coexistence. Rural schools tend to be very effective in meeting the needs of students, since teaching takes place in a familiar, welcoming and safe environment where there is a good relationship between the different members of the educational community. In addition, they manage to maintain strong ties with the communities, beyond the educational establishment, turning the school into the axis of the development of their locality.

In this context, it seems that rural education is fertile ground for developing the much-mentioned 21st century skills: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, citizenship, communication, and self-regulation. The question that arises then is how to provide the minimum conditions so that rural schools can continue developing a teaching model that solves some of the greatest difficulties of schools today.

Here is the great challenge: to put rural education on the list of educational priorities at the level of public policy, to modernize it and generate a self-sustaining model with fiscal resources, which provides the minimum conditions for the development of its students. This contemplates aspects such as digital connectivity, access to pertinent educational resources, school transportation, valuable and complete curricular offer, and training for directors and teachers from the first educational level to secondary education. This is essential to continue promoting the comprehensive development of children that the rural education model provides, but connecting it with the global world and providing them with tools to face the challenges of the 21st century.

We are several institutions that are working to contribute to the objective of strengthening the quality of life in rural areas through education. We all make ourselves available to the authorities to continue improving and promoting this education and thus achieve the full and equitable development of children and young people who live in rural areas.

Gabriela Mistral, without a doubt, is not the only hidden treasure that rural areas have. There are many more.

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Challenges and lessons of rural education – La Tercera