Crossing Cultures: Lots to Learn

We live in the southern hemisphere. This causes some interesting differences in life that I did not realize be- fore we moved here. For example, the sun is strongest in the morning and gentler in the afternoon, which is the opposite of the States. More significant is that the seasons are also the opposite - June, July and August are the winter months, while January and February comprise our summers. Thus, when schools let out for Christmas, it’s also summer vacation until the first or second week of March. 

So, we have just started back to school. We kicked off the season with a carnival for the library kids, so check out the website for more on that. It was a rousing success. As for the school year, allow me to share some of what we have learned about this system, though we still have much to figure out. 

Ana and Shaye currently attend a jardín, which is a preschool. They have children from about 2 years old up to the pre-kinder class, which are 4 years old at the beginning of the year. We assumed that the girls would attend this preschool at least until they were 4, only to be asked at the end of last year if they were returning or moving on to the “regular” schools. Shocked, we asked if that was normal to begin at the age of 3. Apparently it is. 

As it turns out, most of their classmates from last year have signed up and begun attending the prestigious, exclusive schools that cater to the wealthier families. They are still at the preschool level as far as the day’s activities go, but they have secured their slot and will stay there for all grades. Most of those schools require entrance exams, even for 2 and 3 year olds. This testing occurs in April or May for ad- mission the following March, meaning we will soon have to have the girls tested for next year. Thus, a look at the kinds of options available that we will be investigating further in the very near future. 

There are quite a few bilingual schools in the city. These include combinations of Spanish with other languages like English or Swiss or German. At one school, they offer an English track that is taught all in English, while others provide classes in the second language, but mostly teach other subjects in Spanish. There are also numerous private schools in Spanish only. The programs vary greatly with extracurricular activities and special opportunities like foreign languages. This affects the length of the school day. State schools (public) begin by 8:00 in the morning and let out at about 2:00, just in time for a Peruvian lunch. Other schools go all day until late afternoon, as late as 6:00, just to fit in all the parts of their programs. Some secondary schools begin in early afternoon and let out at 9:00 in the evening to allow older children to work in the mornings. The cost varies just as much, as does the quality of the education, though it’s generally accepted that any private school is better than the extremely weak pub- lic school system in this country. 

However, students usually say they like school. During the vacation months, many children attend vacaciones útiles (lit. “useful vacations”), which is a full morning of study each day, and say they enjoy it. Some parents sacrifice a great deal to pay for their children to attend the best school they can afford. They value education. I can relate to that.