In the environment of precariousness and educational inequality in the rural areas of Latin America, with systems and policies that fail to meet the needs and knowledge requirements of students, Ser Maestro (Being a Teacher) arises. The foundation is a social innovation whose mission is to accompany, identify, and promote rural teachers, forging change agents who generate pedagogical innovations and develop skills in their students to close the latent gaps in the region.
This organization that funds rural teachers’ social innovation projects is also a platform that creates a network of specialized learning communities. Within this ecosystem, teachers’ self-esteem is recovered, making them aware of their potential and capabilities, meriting them accordingly for their innovations that generate leaders.
Originated in Peru 20 years ago, Ser Maestro managed to consolidate as a foundation during the pandemic. In 2020, it was selected as the winner of the first edition of TPrize, the open innovation initiative of the Institute for the Future of Education of Tecnológico de Monterrey and the University of the Andes that seeks to provide and implement solutions to the educational challenges of Latin America and the Caribbean. An international jury awarded the prize, distinguishing the foundation from ten finalists, for the visibility of the project in Peru and the legitimacy and sense of belonging among its innovators. Currently, the organization has 5,652 members from eight countries, 120 associates and volunteers, and 28 rural teacher communities.
Efforts that encourage learning
Jaime Montes, CEO and founder of Ser Maestro, explains that rural teachers have managed to close several educational gaps with their own hands and vocation without funding. The foundation serves as a space to develop the innovator, addressing different problems with solutions to reduce the following deficiencies:
Care for children with disabilities. Minors are made invisible or mistreated by cultural prejudices, Ser Maestro supports teachers by including them in their projects. They design strategies to satisfy various needs through personalized technology where standardized systems fail.
Cultural recovery. In rural areas reside the banks of cultures of humanity, such as indigenous or Amazonian cultures. However, their cultural legacies transmitted orally from generation to generation are at risk of being lost. Therefore, initiatives are proposed that digitalize this knowledge to convert it into learning tools for communities of sages from native cultures. Thus, their culture is recovered, the doctrine of homogenization is destroyed, and ancestral technology becomes the focus of intercultural innovation where STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) is also involved.
Gender approach. Macismo in these areas is institutionalized; The rates of femicide and abuse are high, and those affected are primarily teachers, students, and mothers. So, the foundational radically innovates to fight the problem head-on with technological platforms for awareness campaigns, schools against machismo, and other strategies and tools.
Delving into STEAM education. In collaboration with UNESCO, Ser Maestro is generating a book of guidelines to develop and implement STEAM projects in rural areas agilely. With a network of STEAM instructors, it is possible to develop scientific skills in young children. The aim is to serve as a reference to other countries that invest in projects like these to yield feasible educational laboratories.
Development of scientific skills in teachers. Teachers lack spaces to develop professionally; existing spaces are costly. The foundation has obtained with some universities to grant scholarships agreements and diplomas. It also collaborates with local governments to provide in-person and hybrid training and credentials.
Since detecting educational gaps, Ser Maestro created a system to identify solid communities to conduct free workshops on innovative induction and accompaniment educational projects in schools. Their strategy has been to recognize talented people who have produced solid and sustainable programs demonstrated with evidence. For this, they provide teachers with a technological platform and system containing three parts:
A flexible methodology allows rural teachers to use the platform to adopt the STEAM competencies approach within their projects.
A network of volunteer mentors from Latin America on the platform (42 so far) offer their work and assistance to accompany the teachers identified.
Specialized teams allow innovators to create platforms, applications, intranets, and podcasts, among other dissemination tools. Later they seek an incubator, improve their projects, and seek funding.
The INNO methodology distinguishes Ser Maestro. It is an agile pedagogical modality that triangulates the what, how, and purpose. To promote learning experiences, educators must first detect the students’ demands according to their particularities and contexts. Considering the above, it proposes an understanding of skills development and generating prototypes that solve a problem. According to its founder, this process helps train good people who impact society.
The roles of teachers and students
Given the low expectations of the Latin American teacher and the disciplinary approach that focuses on the theory and transmission of knowledge, Ser Maestro Emphasizes a superior bias toward mastering competencies with top-down learning methodologies.
Thus, the INNO methodology puts the students at the center, the teachers are essential players in the innovations. With this resource, Ser Maestro It has changed how education is perceived, transmuting the manual to the technological, listening, and making of the teacher an inspiring innovator. In this way, students become protagonists of their learning using technological and cultural resources that connect them with their communities.
In the words of Jaime Montes, “it is not enough to master the technology; we must integrate it with a pedagogical strategy based on competencies because if we only acccustom ourselves to technology, we are repeating the same mistakes.” The challenge is also that the positive impact of the projects is difficult to measure using the country’s standardized scales. Demonstrating a before and after in an area, for example, is complex. Therefore, Ser Maestro developed three types of learning evidence to indicate progress:
The project is considered innovative by evidence that the student exercises autonomy and has developed critical thinking.
The students have prototyped and created something with their hands using STEAM technology.
The students demonstrate metacognition, socialization, and radiation of their experiences.
A promising future
The Ser Maestro Foundation is working to identify high-level innovators in rural areas, bringing them together in physical schools in Cusco. The idea is to make a physical laboratory of teachers, a cluster or node of rural innovation that resides in Cusco and the Amazon. Through agreements with these communities, the physical nodes that connect them to the world are strengthened, and these can be replicated with hybrid models.
Likewise, they are developing their Third International Congress, a meeting to exhibit the teachers’ projects and the opportunities that exist in the world. This year’s event on July 7, 8, and 9 will cover the theme of interculturality. Educators and experts will discuss the new cultures forming in urban areas and Latin America, the development of intercultural thinking, and the generation of intergovernmental and intersectorial ideas.
Jaime Montes invites the Mexican rural teachers to join the community and leave their marks. “Starting a community in Mexico interests us greatly, to discuss learning among the rural teachers and see what they are innovating in Mexico. There will be free workshops and other experiences, and if the teachers want to go beyond their innovations, they can become agents of change.”
Translation by Daniel Wetta