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Geezer teachers

Friday, October 14, 2011

They’re smart. They’re cheap. They’d love to help Central America

In an essay about education and progress, first published in 2008, I recommended that poor countries hire smart, retired foreign teachers, who would train local teachers, who would in turn teach students.
Hiring pensioners would be relatively cheap.
But on rethinking the concept, a program of outstanding teachers – retired or not - teaching future teachers would cost so little, that even a poor country could afford it.
With that variation, the essay said this:
Central America’s economic history for the most part consists of theatrical performances - er, elections - in which leftists, rightists and populists take turns preening on national stages, while not much happens to change the region’s basic financial fact: poor people keep on being poor.
A big problem is that many leaders, whatever their political color, are corrupt.
But even decent leaders can’t accomplish much, in a region whose policy options and resources are limited (you can’t stimulate business growth by reducing taxes, which are among the world’s lowest; you can’t raise taxes to spread non-existent wealth).
In this case, the region needs to attack its core problem using a different approach – giving its young people the same education that kids get in rich countries, on the theory that engineers and economists tend to make more money than banana pickers and sewing machine operators.
To provide students with a first-world education, the region needs first-world teachers, who cost a lot of money, compared to the local equivalent.
But Central America could hire top teachers at affordable prices, if they recruit geezers.
There are of tens of thousands of retired teachers in the United States alone (including many bilingual ones), thousands of whom are too young and too bored to spend their days playing cards or watching Oprah. Spain is another potential source of top instructors.
If a Central American country were to offer these retirees a cottage on a pleasant campus, along with a little car to drive to the beach on weekends, plus money for expenses, numerous geezers would jump at the chance to spend a few years helping needy students, while living in a tropical paradise and saving their pension income back home.
Meanwhile, the country would get the world’s best teachers for no more than the cost of local professors.
A geezer teachers’ college could combine local staff – many of whom are highly competent, especially in social-studies and Spanish-language instruction – with outstanding foreigners, who would concentrate on science, economics, computing and English.
Assuming a geezer trains an average of 20 future teachers over a three-year period, thirty geezers could produce 600 graduates annually after year three.
Assuming each graduate in turn teaches a class of 20, the geezer college’s first-year class would improve the education of no fewer than 12,000 of the country’s elementary or high school students - and this number would grow by 12,000 every year.
Some Central American countries are more successful than others at producing trained graduates. In recent years, Costa Rica and Panama have been able to attract increased amounts of foreign investment in sectors which demand non-traditional skills, especially English and computers, and which pay wages well above the national average.
But investors also say they can’t significantly expand these kinds of operations, let alone establish new ones, because they can’t recruit enough staff.
Finding effective political-economic solutions for Central America will take a while. In the meantime, a small geezer college could in a short time make a big difference to the region’s productivity.

Fred Blaser
Republica Media Group