President Lenin Moreno said Thursday that rural schools closed during the administration of former president Rafael Correa will reopen beginning in February.
Moreno said that Correa’s plan of constructing consolidated “Millennium Schools” was a failure because it deprived small communities of cultural centers and and required children to travel long distances to the new schools. “Many towns and villages were devastated by this policy,” he said. “It removed the life and the joy from the communities.”
The ministry of education said it is working out the details of Moreno’s order and that it may take weeks or even months to reopen all schools. Among the issues to be resolved is finding teachers for rural schools and determining the number of students who will attend.
Several former education officials criticized Moreno’s plan, saying it lacked preparation and ignored the ongoing depopulation of small communities. “Maintaining the integrity of small communities sounds very healthy but there are other issues to consider,” said University of San Francisco-Quito professor Carlos Iglesias. “There has been almost no planning for this and the education ministry does not know how many students are affected and the impact on the consolidated schools. There is also the issue of the structural quality of the facilities that will reopen.”
Iglesias added, “The decision seems to be motivated by politics more than educational policy.”
Fabian Miller, an education official in three former administrations, including Correa’s, said students could suffer under the new plan. “One of the reasons of the consolidated school plan is that students in rural schools were poorly educated, often taught in classrooms that combined three or four grades,” he said. “Testing results showed they were far behind students who had studied in larger schools where classes were separated. Many rural students were not prepared to enter university.”
Like Iglesias, Miller says there are no reliable numbers of how many students will return to the closed schools. “Many of these schools, maybe 20 or 30 percent, were about to be abandoned anyway as families moved away from small towns when Correa’s plan was instituted. Many of these schools had less than 10 students of all ages taught by one teacher. I am shocked by the lack of study that preceded this announcement. It seems like a step backward for education in Ecuador.”