Why wouldn't this student-teacher exchange work?

By , Education editor of The Christian Science Monitor

The No. 1 teacher training institution in Peru (it's a five-year course and includes practice teaching) is Lima's Instituto Pedagogico Nacional. After a visit there with Sabra Nichols de Chavez, who is in charge of the English department (teaching future Peruvian teachers to be teachers of English as a second language), I came up with a plan that would help solve a difficult problem in the United States. I tried it out on Mrs. Chavez, who didn't seem at all sure that any US college or university would be flexible enough.

This teachers' college, operated by Roman Catholic teaching sisters of the Convent of the Sacred Heart, would be a marvelous place for US student teachers to study Spanish as a second language and do practice teaching in Spanish at the institute's pilot school or a nearby public school. Also, the US student could learn much about teaching English as a second language --a skill badly needed in public schools across the US.

My thought is that there would be an exchange. No fewer than two and probably no more than five students from the US should exchange places with students from Lima. The Lima students, like their US counterparts, would practice teach in the US and study English there as well. Also, they would teach English as a second language to native Spanish-speaking US school-children.

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Mrs. Chavez reminded me that housing, in both directions, could be a serious deterrent to my plan.

Then she added the differing times for the school year, and also finances and the fact that all the students in that teacher-training college are women.

But I want to hurdle all those fences. The city of Boston badly needs teachers who are fluent in Spanish and trained to teach English as a second language to native Spanish-speaking children. And Boston has several fine colleges that prepare teachers.

Suppose Wellesley College were to play hostess to the plan, seeking out women candidates from such institutions as Tufts, Northeastern, Harvard, Boston College, and Boston University.

Together, the several women students could rent a nearby apartment or house in Lima, or one by one find a place in the home of one of the exchange students.

For the US students, I would envision this time coming in the second semester of their junior year --starting in April and lasting through what is winter for Peru and the summer term for US students.

And I would have the Peruvian students begin their US school term in September of their fourth year. They could live in dormitories or in the homes of exchange students, and combine some class work at one of the cooperating colleges with practice teaching in a Boston public school with a large Spanish-speaking population.

Of course, the Instituto Pedagogico Nacional would not charge the US students for class work, nor would the Boston-area colleges charge the Peruvian students.

And it is certainly well within the realm of possibility that one or more multinational corporations -- doing business in the US and Peru --grant to defray travel and living costs for the students in the exchange.

I can just imagine the strengths the Peruvian women would receive in a semester of teaching and studying in the US. How much more confident they would be as they completed their studies and went out into Peru's schools teaching English -- a compulsory subject in all of the country's public schools.

I can also imagine how much more confident the US women students would become as they prepared to work with Spanish-speaking US schoolchildren. Many US immigrants are not fluent in their own languages, and Boston has very few teachers who are fluent enough in Spanish to help these youngsters with grammar, composition, and literature.

It can also be difficult for a native English-speaking practice teacher to understand just what the problems are for the Spanish-speaker learning English. Time spent studying these very problems in Peru, plus the time spent in practice teaching, should prove invaluabe.

A word about why the national teacher training institution in Peru is directed by a Roman Catholic order: In 1878, the Peruvian government asked the French government for help in setting up the first such college. The Convent of the Sacred Heart responded, and has managed the institution ever since with public funds.

The British Council has been very generous with books; the Belgian government provided a complete language laboratory; the US has made a few contributions to the special English-language library; but Mrs. Chavez admits that the college "would be lost without the help from Belgium and Britain."

Perhaps if Wellesley did not want to experiment with such an exchange program , one or more of the Claremont colleges might look for such a way to prepare their future teachers to aid California's growing Chicano populati on.

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