Education in the Galapagos

Fundación Scalesia 2020 
By: Reyna Oleas, General Director 

Fundación Scalesia is a Galápagos NGO founded by a group of local leaders 26 years ago (1994) in Puerto Ayora. It is the only local institution working exclusively in strengthening formal education in the Galápagos Islands. We believe that PreK-12education, where students spend six hours a day, 200 days a year, provides the best opportunity to form future citizens of Galápagos who understand the critical role that nature has on their economic and social wellbeing.

The strategy of Fundación Scalesia is to make sure that formal education helps children and youth to understand the importance of the unique place they live. It is a challenge to talk about conservation in Galápagos with students who have never had the opportunity to experience, as tourists do, the natural wonders of the Islands. It is often said that it is hard to protect and conserve what you do not love, and it is hard to love something that you do not know. Scalesia Foundation, through its two projects,Education forSustainability Program and theTomas de Berlanga School, seeks to bring Galápagos to every classroom in ways that ensure the connection to place, commitment, and knowledge of future citizens of the Islands.

There are more than 7,000 students (PreK-12) and 400 teachers and school principals in 20 schools in Galápagos. Seven years ago, Galápagos Conservancy and Fundación Scalesia, the Ministry of Education and an international team of education specialists, conducted a diagnostic study on the state of education in Galápagos. The study, known as the Listening Phase Report, documented very low motivation among teachers, heavy reliance on antiquated teaching strategies (memorization and repetition), and virtually no access to teacher professional development.  

The poor results of Galápagos students on national standardized tests confirmed weaknesses in local education, where attention to developing critical and solution-oriented thinking was not stressed. As a result, graduates from local public schools found it difficult to get good jobs in Galápagos due to their lack of English in a community whose primary income is tourism. Both the acceptance and graduation rates of Galápagos students in higher education was less than 20% due to a lack of academic and personal skills. 

As a result of this study, Galápagos Conservancy, Fundación Scalesia, and the Ministry of Education designed and implemented the Education for Sustainability in Galápagos Program. The Program allows all teachers and school principals in the Galápagos Province to receive intensive, high-quality professional development. The objective is to ensure that participants develop tools to help students master core subjects, develop higher-order thinking skills, and develop a sustainability world view.  

This Program, currently in its fourth year, includes: 

(1) Two 50-hour Teacher Institutes each year, comprised of workshops for all the teachers and school principals (approximately 400) in the four inhabited Islands. Workshops focus on proven student-centered teaching strategies, including ways to teach core subjects (Math, Science, Social Sciences, Language Arts) and English in the context of local examples and sustainability principles. A team of approximately 40 like-minded, highly experienced educators delivers workshops and has fine-tuned its approach. 

(2)Teachers receive coaching year-round (classroom observation and feed-back sessions and professional learning circles) to ensure that the strategies and information collected during workshops are put into practice in the classroom. A team of approximately 60 of the best teachers is being trained to serve as future coaches. 

(3)Training in Education Leadership for school principals ensure that teachers are supported in the implementation of Project- and Place-based Learning and other active learning approaches.  

This is a long-term program made possible by a private/public joint venture involving Galápagos Conservancy, Fundación Scalesia and the Ministry of Education of Ecuador 

This is a long-term program made possible by a private/public joint venture involving Galápagos Conservancy, Fundación Scalesia and the Ministry of Education of Ecuador. Fundación Scalesia ́s second big project is a private pilot school -Tomás de Berlanga School (TBD)- that implements best practices that can be scaled up at a provincial level by the Education for Sustainability Program. The school serves 200 students and is financed by parent-paid tuition (70%) and donors(30%) who support a scholarship program. Approximately 20% of the student body receives need-based scholarships that finance the education of future Galapagos leaders that are bright but cannot afford to pay tuition. 

Fundación Scalesia develops and promotes teaching strategies and learning environments that help students become environmentally literate members of a global society. The goal is to help develop individuals with deep knowledge of the environmental challenges facing Galápagos, with the skills needed to address these challenges and, most importantly, the commitment and self-confidence needed to take action. 

Having provided this background, we know that we don’t have all the answers and that success is not easy. Education requires a long-term commitment and change is often visible only over generations. However, the success of Tomas de Berlanga School graduates tells us that we are on the right path. 

More than 90% of Tomas de Berlanga School´s graduates have finished or are currently completing higher education. Most of them have returned to Galápagos to enrich the community, and many are decision-makers, entrepreneurs, and professionals that believe that sustainable development is possible and are working to make it a tangible reality. 

The path has not been easy. We need the help of decision-makers, public sector leaders, and private donors to keep making progress.