I have been working at Colegio Santa María, a private, Catholic, International Baccalaureate (IB) K-12 school in Salta. It is considered one of the best schools in the city because of the IB accreditation, and because it is entirely bilingual. The kids start learning English in Kindergarten, and learning it well. The English teachers are phenomenal and the kids graduate with quite a high language level. I knew very little about education in Argentina before coming here, and decided it would be a great idea to write a post about schools and students here.
Let’s start with what makes up an average high school in the metro-Milwaukee area, Wisconsin, USA in 2013:
- Each teacher has their classroom, and the students rotate from one room to another as the day goes on.
- Each class period has different students in it.
- Students have lockers.
- Almost all classrooms have some form of technology, whether it be an overhead, a document cam, a SmartBoard with speakers and a mounted projector, 1:1 iPads, etc.
- A computer lab is available for teachers to use with their students
- A cart with a class set of laptops is available for teachers to use with their students.
- The school day is roughly from 7:30/8 am until 2:45/3:30 pm (give or take)
- Lunch is served mid-day. Students can bring lunch from home or buy lunch at school for about $3. If parents cannot afford lunch, they can apply for free/reduced price lunch.
- A full support staff is available with interventionists, a school psychologist, social worker, guidance counselor, teachers trained in interventions, and specialists in emotional/behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities, etc.
- If a teacher has an exceptional student in their course, they are legally required to make accommodations, alter assessments, provide different in-class activities, maintain consistent contact with parents and support staff, etc. If not, they are actually breaking the law because these documents (IEPs) are legally binding.
- Students have textbooks that they borrow for the year (and are responsible for), or novels/chapter books, or books on tablets/iPads.
- Teachers have ample space to put their stuff – in filing cabinets and closets in their classroom and often in the “____ department office”
- Schools have wifi (I don’t think this is necessarily the norm right now but it’s becoming more and more common)
- There is a full library with thousands of books – novels, dictionaries, etc.
- Students have a lot of choice when it comes to their schedule, and can pick from business courses, hands-on tasks like graphic design, auto, welding, etc., a variety of art (ceramics, painting, drawing), music (orchestra, band, choir), computer courses (web design, etc)
- For core subjects (math, science, social studies, English), students are in a remedial course, normal course, an honors course, or an Advanced Placement course. This depends on standardized tests grades but also teacher recommendations. There are also schools that offer IB curriculum.
- The school offers a large array of extracurricular activities for students, like student government, business clubs, language clubs, public speaking and debate, a school newspaper, yearbook, drama department, etc.
- The school offers a large array of sporting teams for students, like football, soccer, basketball, cheerleading, dance team, swimming, tennis, baseball, volleyball. If a student is involved in sports, they normally stay at school until 4:30 or 5 PM, if not later.
- The school has these facilities on-campus – soccer fields, baseball fields, a swimming pool, etc.
- Transportation to school for students is provided by the school district. For students with cars, there is a large student parking lot and students pay roughly $150-$200 a year to park at school.
- Teachers are evaluated by administrators, and these administrators may do “walk throughs” or schedule formal observations where they request the lesson plans in advance.
- Teachers need to be available to student questions and parent questions from 7 AM until 9 PM every day, and are expected to respond to e-mails within 24 hours maximum.
- Teachers work all day in the same school, and are normally provided with 1 or sometimes 2 periods of “prep” – time that they do not teach, but is part of their salary, where they plan for lessons and grade assessments.
- Teachers are expected to proctor exams like the practice ACT/SAT, the ACT, SAT, and state assessment (WKCE). Sometimes they are compensated for this, if it takes place outside the normal school day.
- Conferences are held two or three times per year and teachers stay at school until 8:30 or 9 PM. They are not paid extra for this.
- Class size is between 20 and 35, sometimes up to 40 students. 40 is quite rare for suburban schools but relatively common for urban schools.
- Teachers update grades in an online grading system like Infinite Campus or PowerSchool. Students can check this online any time, so they can see their grade on every assessment and their current cumulative grade.
- 80% of a students’ grade is assessment (quizzes and tests).
- If a teacher has 15% of their students failing, it is a huge problem, they will be talked to by an administrator, and it is completely unacceptable. In turn, they offer time before school, during their prep and lunch, and after school for student support. The other strategy is to never enter a 0 in the grade book, and enter 50 instead.
- Department meetings take place every week and school staff meetings either every week or every two weeks (sometimes every month).
- Some private schools require school uniforms. Public schools do not, but they have a dress code (no cleavage, no super short skirts, etc).
- Teachers are paid, on average, about $28,000 to 30,000 their first year teaching. This is $2,333 to $2,500 per month.
- In public schools, parents must pay school fees ($100-$200) and also a fee for each sport the student plays.
- In private schools, parents pay tuition which is about $9,800-$20,000 per year. This is $816-$1,666 per month. ($9,800 at Pius, $11,400 at DSHA, $16,050 at Brookfield Academy, $22,769 for 11th and 12th grade at University School of Milwaukee)
There is a lot to think about there… those are all things any American has pretty much come to expect as “normal” from their high school. If you are reading this and are from the USA, I am hoping you agree with most of those bullet points. Of course, what qualifies as “normal” is going to depend a ton on where you live in America, if the school is urban, suburban, or rural, public or private or charter, etc. But I tried to give a fair summary of what it is like.
- The students are divided into groups. They stay in the exact same classroom all day, and the teachers come and go.
- Each class period has the exact same students in it.
- Students do not have lockers.
- Basically no classrooms have any technology. They might have one or two projectors in the school that the teachers can check out. I have never seen a SmartBoard here.
- The very best schools might have a computer lab that is available for teachers to use with their students
- As for laptops, students are given a computer by the Argentinian government (I’m not even kidding). They are netbooks and are plastered with “Presidencia de la Nación” insignia.
- The school day is divided into “Turno mañana” and “Turno tarde” – morning or afternoon. There are only three schools in Salta that have all-day school, and Colegio Santa María is one of them. At Santa María, they are there from 8 AM to 4 PM. At the other schools kids are there from 8-1 OR 2-6:30 roughly. That’s right, they only go to school for 4.5-5 hours a day.
- Lunch is generally not served at school. Because most schools are only turno mañana or turno tarde, the kids each lunch after school or before school, depending. At Colegio Santa María they DO have lunch, but most kids bring it from home.
- At most schools, there is not a full support staff available. There are a lot of separate schools available for kids with disabilities. Integration into mainstream classes isn’t common here. Also, a lot of things like ADHD and emotional behavioral disorders are not labeled or diagnosed.
- If a teacher has an exceptional student in their course, there are no legally binding accommodations, IEPs, nothing.
- Students get photocopies of textbooks and purchase them. They cost about $7-10.
- Teachers have absolutely no space to put their stuff, because they don’t have their own classroom and there aren’t department offices. Most school buildings are used in the morning, in the afternoon, and again at night by adults getting their GED or something.
- Most schools do not have wifi. Colegio Santa María does (lucky day!)
- Schools have very limited libraries.
- Students have literally NO CHOICE when it comes to their schedule. Because they are in the same room with the same kids all day, they all get the same classes at the same level. That’s right — no electives, no remedial courses, no honors, no AP.
- The school offers a very, very, very limited number of extracurricular activities. Some of the best private schools offer Model United Nations, school plays, etc. But at public schools this is basically nonexistent.
- The school does not usually offer sporting teams for students. If they want to play soccer, they join a soccer club. If they want to swim, they go somewhere that has swimming lessons. If they want to play tennis, they go to a place with a tennis court.
- The best private schools do indeed have soccer fields and whatnot on campus, but this is NOT common.
- Transportation to school for students is not provided. Either parents have to contract “Transporte escolar” through a company, the students take the city bus, or the parents take them there in their car.
- I do not really know about how teachers are evaluated here… I will look into this.
- Teachers only work a few hours a day at a school and then go teach somewhere else. So if a student needs extra help, it is very difficult to even track the teacher down because they are only there a few hours a day and teach the entire time. Prep time is not paid at all.
- There is not a culture of tests here. To get into college, there is no ACT/SAT.
- I do not know about parent/teacher conferences… another thing I will look into.
- Class size is between 20 and 35, sometimes up to 40 students.
- There is no online gradebook system here.
- 80% of a students’ grade is assessment (quizzes and tests).
- It is not uncommon for 30-50% of students to fail. This is normal and totally accepted. Nothing happens to you as a teacher if half your students fail.
- I am not totally sure about department/staff meetings.
- Every single student has a uniform. Look at that netbook picture above. Those are the public school uniforms (I call them doctor coats.). Below are public school uniforms. Students have a “gym” uniform and a regular uniform. The regular uniform is a polo shirt and a skirt for girls (with tights or socks and loaders). Boys have dress pants and a polo. They also have sweaters for when it is cold out. The gym uniform is a t-shirt and sweatpants or shorts. This is worn on the days when they have Phy Ed.
- Teachers are paid, on average, according to this website, $6930 pesos per month in Salta if they work 40 hours per week. This number could be as low as $5000 pesos in some provinces, and as high as $13000 in others. Salta is on the low end of the scale. $6930 pesos is $1172 USD (official conversion) or $815 USD (dolar blue conversion).
- In public schools, parents literally pay nothing except for transportation, school supplies, and photocopies of books.
- In private schools, parents pay tuition which is about 600 pesos maximum per month ($101 official $70 dólar blue). 8 out of 10 students go to private school – partially because the public schools are pretty bad and partially because it is so affordable.
One of the major differences between schools here and in the states is that here, there is an “egresados” trip that all HS seniors take. At most private schools, the parents start paying for this trip when their kids are literally 6 years old, and then they get to travel to México, the US, or Europe when they’re seniors. It was strange for my students to hear that this is not a “thing” in the USA. I told them that there are trips for a specific class — band, orchestra, choir, art, AP European History, foreign language, etc. But the whole grade never travels somewhere far away together.
One of the things that does bother me here is that the students do not have every subject every day, because the school day is so short. Behavior problems are the same – texting, kids being rude, not doing homework, etc. I think that in Argentina the kids are lucky because private education is way more affordable than in the States! But it is sad to see that 80% of families turn to private education because they can’t rely on the public system. One of the things I love about the US is school culture though — sprit wear, sports teams, etc. and the way that the school turns into a community center of sorts. I miss that “GO ________ GO!” pep rally/football game thing!
I’m not going to end this by saying which educational system is better or which is worse. I think that both have great things and both have some pretty awful things. I am just fortunate to be able to experience another educational system on such a deep level.