Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Passivity and boredom have long plagued formal schooling in Mexico. Very few teachers actively encourage student participation, while even fewer focus on creative problem solving and teamwork. The poorest, most isolated communities—which generally are predominantly indigenous—usually suffer the worst problems with educational quality. A high student-to-teacher ratio, multi-grade classrooms, and the use of Spanish rather than indigenous native languages all contribute to lower scholastic achievement levels among indigenous students. According to Mexican government statistics on basic education, school absentee rates, failure rates, and desertion rates are all twice as high for indigenous versus non-indigenous student populations. Nevertheless, the problem of rigid, passive education is endemic to many Mexican schools, not just indigenous communities. Government agencies and citizen organizations have unsuccessfully attempted to implement a variety of educational programs in public schools. Students often do not find the programs, which lack mechanisms to measure impact, engaging. To some extent, the rigid structure of the Mexican education system influences broader societal attitudes, with widespread paternalism and apathy in place of active civic participation. Many of Mexico’s marginalized communities remain disconnected from the outside world, because of their physical isolation and dwindling populations. Without reliable phone and internet connectivity, residents of rural communities are often unaware of the connections between problems, actions, and consequences on a local, national, and global level. Having seen little beyond the village or town where they have always lived, many Mexicans have a natural distrust of unfamiliar ideas and people—including Mexicans from other parts of the diverse country. As a result, Mexico has long struggled with the question of how best to handle diversity-related issues. In addition to being an entrenched problem in Mexican education, inactivity is now rapidly becoming a problem in Mexicans’ daily lives. As in the United States, lifestyles in Mexico have become increasingly sedentary as the economy has evolved. Combined with unhealthy diets, inactive lifestyles are contributing to a growing obesity epidemic in Mexico, where 52.2 million people—over half the population—are now overweight or obese. Since the topic of nutrition is generally not covered in schools, weight-control problems are becoming ever more noticeable in children. If children are not exposed to healthy eating habits and regular physical activity from an early age - either through their families or their schools- they risk forming life-long habits that increase their chances of obesity later in life.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
By the end of 2010 with just two years in operation, Deport-es para Compartir (DpC) will have reached 28,000 Mexican children. The DpC model’s emphasis on active education deems it inherently different from most forms of formal education in Mexico. On the most basic level, DpC is built upon learning through physical activity, particularly interactive games and simulations rather than traditional sports (which often bear negative associations of competition and athletic ability). The use of play and physical movement not only encourages a more active lifestyle for Mexican children, but it also makes learning more fun and increases student retention. Moreover, using games as an educational tool enables the students themselves to discover the value of intangible principles like teamwork, fair play, gender equality, tolerance, and respect. DpC is designed to promote collective action as a means to solving local problems. Rather than merely reading about social and environmental problems in their textbooks, students are encouraged to create pragmatic solutions and implement them in their schools and homes.
The actual content covered by DpC revolves around two main topics: the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and diversity. By structuring lessons around the MDGs, DpC allows children to discover how the problems that they see in their own communities, such as poverty, disease, and discrimination, are related to global problems that are similar in nature – a comparision that undoubtedly heightens their awareness of social and environmental actions. This interconnectivity applies equally to solutions as it does to problems; through DpC, students realize that the sum of local actions can have an impact that extends far beyond any individual community. Besides broadening students’ horizons through the MDGs, DpC also exposes students to external contexts through games, activities, and an exchange of homemade “treasure boxes” between different Mexican communities. This exposure allows Mexican children to experience and appreciate diversity without ever leaving their local communities.
While elite private schools often possess the sole access to Mexico’s innovative educational curricula, Dina is determined to cast a wider net and include all types of rural and urban school settings in DpC’s network, including public and private schools as well as indigenous shelters in the most marginalized communities. DpC has a particular focus on these indigenous communities in Mexico’s poorest states, such as Oaxaca and Chiapas; Dina understands that if DpC achieves success there, it can achieve success anywhere. Not only is this the population most in need of educational resources, but it is also the most isolated from the outside world and therefore the most disenfranchised. By bringing DpC to these communities and linking them to other types of school settings where DpC operates, Dina and her team are empowering children, their families, and their teachers to understand that they are part of a larger ecosystem and to participate actively in solving local and global problems.