I have been thinking a lot about family during my time in Colombia. Initially this was because I had planned a research question about family involvement in education. This is such a central piece of my own teaching practice that I thought it would be interesting to see how it fits into the Colombian education system. It could also have something to do with the fact that I have been missing my own family–this is the longest amount of time hat I have been away from my own kids–(and my oldest is 18 years old!)
Because of this, I was especially happy to have the chance to share an evening with two young Colombian families. Melissa, an English teacher at my host school invited us to spend an evening with her and her husband and two daughters–ages 7 and 8. They took us to the beautiful village of Filandia, where they met her friend Daisy, (also a teacher) and her husband and two daughters ages 3 and 4.
Filandia was a traditional “coffee town”. Brightly colored buildings surrounded a central square that was filled with kids on their bikes, people taking walks and vendors selling fruit and arepas (grilled corn cakes). Melissa’s oldest daughter Camilla was tour guide. (She was also my Spanish teacher. We had a great time teaching each other new words.) Camilla and her little sister, Laura attend a private Catholic school. This was the case of most of the teachers that I met. They chose to send their children to private school, even though it is an extra expense for their families.The main difference between the private and public schools is class size. The average class size in the public schools that we visited was between 32-40 students. The private schools are smaller and are able to provide more individualized instruction for their students. Their decisions reminded me of our decision to move to Whitefish Bay so that our kids could attend school there. They see education as an invaluable investment that is worth any sacrifices that they might have to make.
When we were in Filandia we met their friend Daisy and her husband. They had recently moved to the town in order to give their two daughters, ages 3 and 4 a larger house with more room to play. They rent a house in town but have bought a small “finca” or farm just outside town in the countryside. We were thrilled to be invited to spend the evening with them at their “farm”. It was also a great opportunity to talk about families in Colombia. When I told people that I felt sad about my son moving away to college this fall they were surprised. Colombians typically live with their parents until they are married. Many will even live with their parents after they are married. They were also surprised to learn that my husband and I live far from both of our families. Most people remain in the areas where they grew up. Daisy’s mother lived on the same street as she and her husband. Grandparents, aunts and uncles form an essential social fabric which allows both parents to work and allows people to save the money they need when they come to the point where they will get married and strike out on their own.
We also spoke about their work as teachers. I asked about parent involvement in their schools. The biggest obstacle parents face is time. When parents work from 7am to 7pm there is no time to attend school meetings. There is also the issue of class size. When a teacher has 45 students in a class they lack the capacity to make strong individual relationships with the student families. When parents have limited or no access to the internet, it is not possible to use email for communication. They also agreed that for the most part, Colombian parents have great respect for teachers and generally defer to their decisions.
Throughout this conversation the four little girls were swinging in hammocks, running in the garden and giggling non-stop. It was Friday night and they were happy to stay up late-until they got so tired that they were almost falling over. It reminded me so much of when my own kids were little. Some experiences just transcend language, culture and time. Family is family where ever you are!
Question for kids: In Colombia I saw kids going to parks with their families, playing games with their families and visiting friends with their families? What do you like to do with your family for fun?