Viral Videos From Teacher and Student Elevate Debate Over Puerto Rico’s Local Education System

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Image via screengrab.

By Mivette Vega

November 13, 2020

A drama teacher shared her frustration on social media, claiming students are not interested in learning. A student posted a video response saying students are interested, but lack adequate support from the Department of Education. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—Theater instructor Frances Sánchez took to social media to share her frustrations regarding her students. In a video, she claimed today’s generation does not want to learn—and touched a nerve in the process. 

Sánchez, who lives in the municipality of Ponce, has been teaching for 18 years. In the video she shared, she expressed being at a loss as to how to keep her students engaged.

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“I have come across the harsh reality that I am dealing with young people who don’t care about learning. They don’t want to do anything,” Sánchez said in her video. “Today is Nov. 10, and I have students who have not reported to class. I’m already fed up, I feel overwhelmed, and I don’t know what else to do.”

In response, Roberto Molina, a high school senior, denied that “his generation doesn’t want to learn” in a video he posted. He blamed the Department of Education (DE) for an “archaic” education system. He explained that as someone who is about to graduate from high school, he has received no real-life orientation on basic steps like opening a bank account or applying for college. 

“We have a mediocre system, and it has always been that way,” Molina said in his video post. “Now being online, [the mediocrity] has intensified. It’s a system that has students, teachers, and principals feeling drained. This problem starts from the top, from politicians.”

Ileana Rodríguez, president of Colectiva LLC, an education and nonprofit strategy consultant, said this conversation shows the divisiveness in Puerto Rico’s education community. 

“When it gets to the point where teachers and students find themselves on different sides of a war of words, we have clearly failed,” Rodríguez told The Americano.

Rodríguez understood how teacher Sánchez must feel alone in her struggle, trying to paint a bigger picture of shared responsibility along with the government and the Department of Education. The expert, however, does not agree with the teacher placing the blame on students.

“The reality is our children and youth are being failed systematically,” Rodríguez said. “When you see situations like the fact that less than half of the students in the public school system actually master Spanish—their native language—you realize they are being systematically oppressed by a system that is undereducating and and underpreparing them.”

Rodríguez said that in this context, it is unsurprising for high school students to find themselves at odds with getting the most out of a class like theater, which might pique their interest but instead leaves them feeling “overwhelmed.” 

Since the semester began, students, parents, and teachers have been dealing with additional challenges brought upon by the pandemic. Access to technology has been the main issue because of a lack of computers and internet access. More than half of the 281,577 enrolled public school students had not received computers the DE was going to provide when classes began.

“We have a broken education system in Puerto Rico, one that has gotten to the point where students—the most important stakeholders—and teachers are attacking each other,” Rodríguez said. “It’s heartbreaking but we must not fall into this trap. I urge people to avoid taking sides. This is not a matter of sides; this is our most precious community.”

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Rodríguez thinks student Molina’s point of view is “hopeful” because he asserts his right to an education while defending fellow students.

“My biggest hope would be that these two outspoken Puerto Ricans have the opportunity to actually join in efforts, elevate the reality of the challenges they face day to day, and realize they are not each other’s enemy but rather most important allies in building a stronger Puerto Rico,” Rodríguez stated.



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