In Defense of Buenos Aires Public Schools for a Change


After a seemingly  endless summer break immediately followed by a long weekend, we are finally back to school for good in Buenos Aires. To start things off, I’d like to post some follow-up comments I received from another parent in response to my article Expat Parents, Bilingual Kids and Argentine Schools , mainly because it broadens the take on public schools in the city of Buenos Aires. She also reiterates  something pointed out by a number of parents I interviewed regarding the prioritization of group over individual interests in the classroom, which I plan to talk about in my next post. Here’s what she had to say:

When we came to think about what to do for primary school, we decided that it would be good to have the school support our home English, so we looked for one that had a good level of English tuition. Everyone we asked said we should only look at private schools, and we were put off public schools, comments were really negative. We searched and researched and alighted on the New Model in Palermo.

The New Model’s level is good for Argentinian kids, who do learn to speak and write in English. But clearly they were pointless for ours. Funnily enough, our son did not complain of being bored in the afternoons – it is mostly taught through games and drama, so he was able to enjoy it anyhow. The thoughts of the head of English boiled down to what appears to be the standard approach to education here, which is that the point is the group goals and not the development of the individual, and even working in small groups was not really an option.

But to our surprise, our son complained of being bored in the mornings (basic curriculum, in Spanish). The rationale of class work being the same for everyone was practised and even though the head was open to doing differentiated work, the teachers we had were too inexperienced to be able to carry it out.

Triggered by a 38 per cent rise in school fees for next year, we sat down to assess if the education we were putting the kids through still made sense to us. Taking English off the requirements for a school opened up an unknown landscape; throwing in the preference for fewer hours spent institutionalised, it cut out nearly all private schools. So that led fairly naturally to considering public schools, where they could go mornings only.

So we did check out our neighbourhood schools. And we found all sorts.  A few short on kids and looking very sad. But what came as a bit of shock (to our ignorance) was the general high quality of facilities and staff priorities and small class numbers (15 to 25 in most schools). This is not to romanticise public schools and say everything was great, but many of the efforts felt more rigorous and thought through than I’ve come across interviewing private school heads in the past. And they were open about problems and they talked of dealing with them with the cooperadora – and we were sold on being able to contribute to a public good and not to education based on some individual’s profit-making.

I would say to anyone thinking of schools, do go and look at your local public schools, and see what you think, they are not as dire as most people make out.

So, our kids are now enrolled in a school that does medio turno, three blocks away from home, walking distance to lunch. In a lovely building that has a big sports field with trees and a huerta, a covered patio for rainy days, a great library, computer room, digital screen, lab, music room… And they have the afternoons for learning in other ways, in English, more suited to the sum of cultures we have foisted upon them…

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3 comments on “In Defense of Buenos Aires Public Schools for a Change

  1. rwanysibaja says:

    Hi,
    We’re moving from Virginia to BA September 1st. Although our initial stay is 4 months…we will be back next (US) summer again. We wanted to see what you think about placing our 7 and 5 year olds in public schools for the last 3 months of the Argentine school year. We are staying in Palermo, and although our kids have been spoken to in Spanish since birth, their understanding of it is “ok” but they do not speak the language. We were hoping that Spanish-language immersion, coupled with home schooling in English on US curriculum, would be ideal. Any thoughts? I hear mixed things about being able to enroll kids in the public schools…especially at the tail end of the year.

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    • otherfence65 says:

      Hi,
      What a coincidence: I’m from Va. too and graduated from GMU. Honestly, I’m not sure how to advise you about this given the bureaucratic nature of all things public in Argentina; I know that for enrollment, you would need official documentation of last grade passed, all translated into Spanish. However, not sure about the temporary aspect. I do know a family who brings their daughter for 1 month every summer to attend a public school in Olivos, always with the same class. My guess is they have an inside connection. As luck would have it, they are here now, so I’ll ask them! I will also ask the few families I know who have kids in public school and get back to you. Where exactly in Palermo will you be staying?

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  2. rwanysibaja says:

    Small world…VA and GMU (who would’ve thunk it!)
    We’ll be staying in an apartment next to Plaza Guemes (on Charcas). I look forward to hearing from your contacts; I’ve been a bit wary of just walking up to a public school and asking them about enrolling two kids for the last three months of the school year.

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