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Faculty Share Bilingual/Bicultural Literacy Focus with Peruvian Educators

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – FEBRUARY 20, 2014 – Maria Constancia Morales was among ten educators from Peru who met with faculty members at The University of Texas at Brownsville on Friday, Jan. 31 as part of a trip to several Texas locations to observe bilingual literacy programs.

“Visiting UTB had a big significance for me as it allowed me to find out about the Language, Literacy and Intercultural Studies degree,” Morales said. “It is what we’re looking for to enrich our own bilingual intercultural education because we have 15 indigenous languages where the majority doesn’t have a normalized alphabet. This means that children learning those languages cannot learn how to write them, only to speak them.”

The group represented San Martín and Ucayali, two Amazonian regions of northern Peru. Morales is Chief of Pedagogical Management in the Local Management Education Unit of Padre Abad, a territorial unit in the Ucayali region.

Dr. Juliet V. García, UTB President, greets Lord Salazar Rodriguez, Director of Pedagogical Management, Ucayali, and Gloria Ruiz Perez, Primary Education Specialist, Padre Abad, Ucayali.

 

Before convening in El Salón Cassia, the guests were escorted on a tour of the Main courtyards and to view the Resaca Lozano Banco from the footbridge, where they were greeted by Dr. Juliet V. García, UTB President.

Dr. Georgianna Duarte, Professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Innovation, led a discussion on the challenges facing bilingual education educators, especially in situations such as multi-lingual Peru, a country where she has professional and personal ties. Duarte spent her sabbatical in Peru in 2005 teaching at the Universidad de San Cristobal-Huamanga in Ayacucho; she visits as often as possible, to see family and friends in Ayacucho, Chinchero and Trujillo.

“The various indigenous languages of the Andes and the jungle regions of the country make Peru fascinating, challenging and exciting,” Duarte said.

Morales’ counterpart, Wilson Guerrero, Director of Pedagogical Management for the Regional Direction of Education in the Region of San Martín, spoke of the need for bilingual teacher education as well as the scarcity of educational materials in various languages, including Quechua, the primary indigenous language that is also the second official language of Peru.

“The unique cultural and spiritual connections to the Andes make the Quechua population a challenge for the more urban Lima administration where Spanish dominates the educational system, policies and practices of the country,” Duarte said.

Dr. Dania López García gave the delegation an overview of the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the plans to become a university where a key principle is to build bilingual education.  

Another presenter, Dr. Edith Galy, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Coordinator for the School of Business, gave a presentation on the Spanish-language Master of Business Administration degree being proposed by the School of Business.

“The Peruvian educators were very interested in hearing how we intended to establish a program in a second language and what the expectations were for our professors and students,” Galy said. “They shared their experiences as teachers and program directors in Peru, and they expressed their commitment in the difficult but important endeavor to build fluency in two languages: their native tongue and Spanish.”

Prior to their short visit to UTB, the group spent several days in Austin where they visited with leaders of A Community in Education (ACE) at the Charles A. Dana Center of The University of Texas at Austin, and they also visited KIPP Austin Comunidad schools.

Ringo Coral Vela, Chief, Primary Specialist, San Martín, engages in discussion between Peruvian delegation and UTB faculty.

The group proceeded to Brownsville, spending two days with Brownsville Independent School District representatives and making observations at several BISD schools.

Accompanying the Peruvian delegation were three representatives of Family Health International (FHI360), based in Durham, N.C., an organization that facilitates educational initiatives in Peru, with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Desirée Pallais, a literacy consultant for FHI 360/USAID, organized the study tour at the request of Evelyn Rodríguez, chief of the USAID Office of Health and Education in Peru. Pallais has been a frequent visitor to Peru since 2012, promoting evidence-based pedagogy among education officials and practitioners, in a context of discussion and collaboration about early grade reading.

“This was an extraordinary visit, an authentic cultural encounter that went beyond the expectations of the tour group,” Pallais said. “They engaged in a productive dialogue about literacy, taking into account cultural realities and the different perceptions of literacy.”

Pallais said the visit to UTB was a fitting culmination to the week.

“They came to Texas and saw Americans who are generous, hard-working and supportive – who are blind to social classes, and that was so important,” Pallais said. “They saw Americans who identified with them and support their efforts and extended information and shared ideas.”

FHI360’s literacy efforts in Peru are implemented in partnership with the SUMA Project, a five-year initiative of USAID that aims to improve the quality of basic education in the most disadvantaged communities of Peru, specifically in the regions of San Martín, Ucayali, Ayacucho, Lima Province, Amazonas and Cajamarca.

Among the group visiting the U.S. was Reading Specialist Verónica Caffo, who directs the reading component of the USAID SUMA Education Project in the targeted regions, including San Martín and Ucayali. Under SUMA, USAID helps the Peruvian Ministry of Education streamline its organizational structure at the national level and improve education management, information systems, and in-service teacher training in the sub-national regions.

To end their visit, the group was treated to dinner at South Padre Island, where they were excited to see the Gulf of Mexico – a first-time event for the Pacific-coast Peruvians.

“I believe this group of culturally responsive educators has a vision of embracing their home language while sensitively responding to the cultural nuances across the four major geographical regions of Peru,” Duarte said. “This is not easy in a country where there are terrains that have created many isolated communities. I believe their time with Texas educators was well planned and implemented, and I look forward to future collaboration.”

To learn more about the project, visit El Viaje de Estudio a Texas: “Visitas y Conversaciones en Lecto–escritura.”

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