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Saturday, April 19 2014 @ 05:25 AM EDT

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Parents Returning Donated Computers, Saying They Don't Work

Schools & EducationParents of children attending the Jose Dolores Moscote school returned the computers donated to students by the Ministry of Education, alleging that they do not work. "They don't work, it's a waste of time," said one mother, who was apparently told by the staff at the school that she should go to complain to the Ministry of Education. The complaint was made, while the Minister of Education, Lucy Molinar, reported the theft of computers at gunpoint. (TVN)
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Panama Hands Out 93,000 Free Laptop Computers To School Children

Schools & EducationComparing what his administration has given to those of his predecessors, President Ricardo Martinelli began yesterday the delivery of laptops to students in fourth, fifth and sixth year. "These computers cost $280 and have more programs than what the previous government bought for $460 dollars. There is a clear difference between things that are done well and those that are done wrong," said Martinelli. The government is buying these computers and giving them to students for a cost of $26.7 million dollars. In the "Salon of Peace" in the Presidency, the Minister of Education, Lucy Molinar, took 50 students to Martinelli of the more than 1,500 who are in the CSI. And it's not the TV series of criminal investigation. They are called Corps of Information Solidarity (CSI) because they will have the difficult task of training the other 93,000 students in the "good use" of the laptop computers. The other members of the CSI will meet today at the Roberto Duran arena, where the computers will be handed out, and on Monday will begin the massive distribution at centers in the country. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: Could you see this happening in the United States? Government money used to buy 93,000 laptop computers that are given free to students? A simple approach to a difficult problem. Kids love technology - give them a computer and without a doubt most of them will use it to learn something. Panama has also set up a nation wide free wifi network so these kids will be able to surf the Internet for free as well, from home. Now they won't have any excuse for not doing their homework.

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"A Lot Remains To Be Done" To Improve Education in Panama

Schools & Education Improvements in the Panamanian educational system continue along at an agonizing pace. Yesterday the presentation of the report "Finding Matches between the Strategic Plan of the Government and the National Coalition Agreements for Development" revealed there is still a lot left to be done in education. There were very few matches generated in this first effort by the institutions that form the Verification and Monitoring Mechanism.

Restlessness - The issue caused anxiety and concern among the various sectors. The president of the National Business Council (Conep), Anthony Fletcher, recognized there have been important improvements, but he is still concerned and asks "whether Panama will reach that goal," referring to improving the quality, efficiency and decentralization of the national education system. "In addition to everything positive that the Ministry of Education has been developing, we must greatly improve its disclosure mechanism in order to know what progress we've had," he stressed.

No agreements - In some of the issues in which there was no agreement was to increase the hours of math, doing more hours of practical exercises, setting goals for each grade in reading, a comprehensive educational project to promote fun and participation in the classroom, in addition to the application of objective national and international standardized selection tests, among other topics.

For the executive secretary of the Council of the National Coalition for Development, Jaime Jacome, there has not been a priority or prioritization of these programs by the Government. "This does not mean it's good or bad. The fact that there is a lack of progress on a specific issue depends on many factors," he said. Jacome said these are long-term goals rather than immediate compliance. No doubt in Panama there is an urgent need to create a state policy that transcends governments (politics) and thus achieve excellence in education. (Mi Diario)

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New "Online Vacancy" Program Starts For Public Schools

Schools & EducationStarting today the Ministry of Education (MEDUCA) will make available to all public school teachers, via their website www.meduca.gob.pa, all of the vacancies generated during the school year, thus starting the so-called "Online Vacancy" program. Silvia Garcia, the National Director in charge of Human Resources for MEDUCA said as of last Thursday more than 2,000 teachers had enrolled in the system, and they will start tomorrow with 25 vacancies.

The Goals - The first aim of the program is to make the process more transparent and objective. "In this way we can avoid manipulation by people who are not interested in improving the education system," said Garcia.

Critics - In response to the criticisms that have been leveled at the new system, MEDUCA said in a press release the Minister of Education, Lucy Molinar, said this project is fairer than the traditional system and, with it they expect to combat corruption in the process of teacher selection.

Andres Rodriguez, leader of the Teachers Association of the Republic of Panama, said this plan is illegal because it is not up to MEDUCA to select the teachers, but rather the Selection Committee. "We are not opposed to technology or programs that may expedite the process, but it is illegal for teachers to be selected after the contest," Rodriguez reported. (Siglo)

Editor's Comment: Once again, kudos to Lucy Molinar as the Minister of Education. One of the problems the public school system has been dealing with for decades is corruption in the way teachers are selected and hired. With this new system Molinar has broken the backs of this network of corruption. And of course the old and corrupt, entrenched "leaders" like Rodriguez who have benefited from this in the past don't like it. Now (hopefully) the best qualified teachers will be selected and hired, not the ones who are connected or who pay the best bribes. Molinar is the best Minister of Education Panama has had in a long, long time.

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Clarification on Scholarships Offered by the US Embassy in Panama

Schools & EducationThe U.S. Government, through its Embassy in Panama, offers a wide range of scholarship and exchange opportunities for everyone from undergraduate and graduate level university students and teachers to high school students and English teachers. There are even scholarship opportunities to study within Panama for those who would like to study English.

A group of U.S. universities participated in the Scholarship Education Fair that took place March 29th, organized by the International Student Network (ISN). ISN is a company that introduces U.S. universities to students from Latin America by organizing education fairs. Many of these universities would like to increase their international student enrollment and they offer scholarships and financial assistance that are open to Panamanian students.

The U.S. Embassy, through the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service, assists in the promotion of these events like the Scholarship Education Fair 2012 that took place on March 29th at the Courtyard Marriott. Many of the universities represented at the fair offered varying amounts of scholarship or tuition discounts to their individual universities. Those partial, private scholarships are different from the scholarships and exchange programs that the U.S. Government offers to Panamanians.

For more information on U.S. Embassy scholarships please follow us on Facebook at Estamos Unidos Panama and on Twitter @USEmbPAN and #BecasUSA. For information on specific scholarships, please visit our website at: http://tinyurl.com/BecasUSA. (US Embassy Panama City Press Release)

Editor's Comment: The ISN fair was actually held at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel on Friday, 30 March 2012.

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US Embassy / International Student Network "Bait and Switch" SNAFU Causes Consternation

Schools & EducationThe illusion of the American dream of hundreds of ordinary Panamanians eager to get a scholarship to study in the United States vanished when it became known they were not offering full scholarships, but rather academic opportunities. Starting at 2:00 pm, a line of more than one thousands applicants, some of whom had traveled from afar and others who arrived in luxury cars, wrapped around the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Multiplaza, which hosted the much-heralded exhibition of scholarships organized by International Student Network in collaboration with the Department of International Commerce of the U.S. Embassy in Panama, where a total of 20 universities from this country would recruit the best students in Panama. Or, so the offer was sold.

A look of joy was drawn on their faces, hoping for their academic future. "I want to study international business," said one, and "I want a scholarship for astronomy," was heard from another. The hotel entrance was crowded once the evening fell. At 6:00 pm the doors opened and the euphoria grew. Parents with their children, school students in uniform, carrying university documents under their arms that they had learned through the media what was needed to be submitted (diplomas, report cards, school credits earned, proof of English language testing, etc..).

One desperate mother who had to return to La Chorrera to find some papers of her daughter, left mad: the event was nothing more than a show because they never accepted her daughter's documents. They only gave her a newsletter with instructions to go into the websites of the universities to make their applications.

Douglas Toscano, on behalf of the organization, apologized for the misinformation that was distributed in the country. He said the scholarships in the United States rely on each university, and they are not free, they are only providing information.

In a small room the people entered slowly, and then left disappointed. Word spread for the others to not lose their time. From inside one hopeful shouted "This is propaganda for Barack Obama, for politics." At 8:00 pm there was still a line, with shoving and stern faces. Some resigned people said "The United States has mocked the poor Panamanians." (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Well, that was unfortunate. For the past couple of weeks the US Embassy in Panama has been blasting out Tweets about the upcoming deadlines for Fulbright scholarships, in Spanish. They are actively encouraging Panamanian students to apply for these scholarships, to study in the United States to earn a Master's degree. And it just so happened that about the same time there is this pay-to-play organization called the the International Student Network, Inc., or ISN. These guys take representatives from universities in the United States on tours of the countries in Latin America (and the world) to recruit students to study at their schools. They are not there to hand out scholarships, but rather to recruit potential students to pay the full fare to attend.

The ISN had organized their Spring 2012 tour of Latin America, starting on 20 March 2012 with stops in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Bogota, Colombia; Medellin, Colombia; Quito, Ecuador; Guayaquil, Ecuador; and then finally Panama on 30 March 2012. Every day and in each of these cities, ISN advertises to their potential clients a schedule that includes "Morning Activities - Visits to the Top Tier Private High Schools, Visits to Top International High Schools. Afternoon Activities - Country Briefings By the U.S. Embassy Office, Education Briefing by USA Office. Evening - ISN Student Fairs: Open to Students and Parents."

And how much does ISN charge the US Universities to participate in this tour? "$2,950 Brazil Only, $6,950 Entire Tour*, $14,400 Entire Tour PLUS Regional Airfare and Visa Services." Also its somewhat ironic that ISN would be promoting a tour of Latin America to Universities, when according to their promotional materials, they think Bogota is located in "Columbia." (Guys, it's "Colombia" - with an "o".) If you would like to see their Promo Card for this tour, just click on the link and the PDF will download.

But anyway, there were two things going on here. On one hand the US Embassy was announcing the upcoming deadlines for the Fulbright scholarships, and on the other hand the ISN, Inc. was announcing their upcoming Expo to be held at the Courtyard Marriott hotel in Multiplaza. The stage for a massive "que, carajo" (Panamanian for WTF) was set.

Apparently there was some confusion growing among the Panamanians on 29 March 2012. People were asking the US Embassy via Twitter questions like "what are the requirements to apply for the scholarships today?" And the person handling the Twitter account thought they were talking about an upcoming event in Chitre, that is being handled by their economics affairs section. Whoops.

Once people started attending the ISN event, it didn't take long for them to figure out that it was not an event organized by the US Embassy, and that no scholarships were going to be handed out. The US Embassy quickly released this press release (in Spanish) in which they clarify the difference between the Fulbright scholarship programs, and the "expo" promotional tours organized by the private company International Student Network, Inc. Well, they got the date wrong in the press release. The ISN Expo was actually held yesterday, Friday, 30 March 2012, and the press release says it was on the 29th, but no big deal there...

So by now the ISN guys are gone, off to organize their next trip. The Panamanians who got caught in what felt to them like a "bait and switch" organized by the US Embassy will probably burn some flags or something. When I first heard about this whole thing early this morning, I initially thought the same thing, that the US Embassy had set it up using the Fulbright Scholarships as "bait", in an effort to lure students to apply to US universities. But, that was not the case. It seems this was just an unhappy coincidence, and now I'm sure there will be apologies all around. As the saying goes, shit happens - even with the best of intentions. Hey, there might be a silver lining to all of this - I just had an idea. Why don't we give all of those idiots who constantly protest over there at the University of Panama scholarships to study somewhere else (Canada, maybe?) - where they can "occupy Ottawa" or whatever. Always thinking, man. Gotta keep thinking...

Related Article:

  • Clarification on Scholarships Offered by the US Embassy in Panama - US Embassy Press Release (English)
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    Students Who Failed Classes Demanding Payments For Academic Excellence

    Schools & EducationParents of students have insisted on closing the road in Juan Diaz. Students in groups with their parents rushed to the streets to demand payment of the "universal scholarship." So far the Ministry of Education (MEDUCA) has not made a statement about what has happened, but the police warn that if they don't open the road, they they will be arrested and taken to the police substation. The Finance Director of the IFARHU, Carlos Godoy, said these students are not entitled to collect any payment, because they failed subjects last school year, and the scholarships are to reward academic excellence. Similarly it was reported that this year there is a resolution that allows students who fail to charge payments, but that's starting from this school year, so students of 2011 do not enter the new standard. At about 10:54 am the parents and students reopened both ways. (Dia a Dia)

    Editor's Comment: Can you believe they actually changed the rules to reward these idiots? Here it comes, the "handout" state. Mistake. Huge mistake. Massive.

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    Education Minister Will Stick With New, Transparent, Teacher Assignment System

    Schools & EducationThe Minister of Education, Lucy Molinar defended the new virtual system for the appointment of teachers, saying that in this way there will be greater transparency, and she criticized those who oppose it. Minister Molinar regretted that no one will protest because the teachers were either charged or asked for favors in order to be named (to a position), despite having qualifications and meeting all requirements. Molinar said she humbled many teachers, telling them that no one should demand anything from them (in order to get a job), and with the new virtual process everyone can keep track of appointments. (TVN)

    Editor's Comment: Yeah! Go, Lucy! Breaking the back of yet another ingrained corrupt practice that has been going on in Panama for decades. It used to be that a small group of power brokers in the Ministry of Education could control who went to work where. If you paid a bribe you could get an appointment to a good school, closer to your house, better working conditions, work with your friends, or what have you. Even if maybe that person was not the most qualified for that position. However if you didn't play the game or pay a bribe you would be assigned to a remote one room schoolhouse in the Darien somewhere, and the people pulling the strings who hated you were really hoping you would quit and go away, even though you might be the most qualified teacher in the entire system. Yeah, this is a good thing. Transparency, used to break corruption. Go figure. And who's opposed to this change? Why, those who benefited from the old system, of course.

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    Public School Teachers Using Forged Documents - More Than 80 Cases Discovered

    Schools & EducationOn the first day of classes more than 80 cases of counterfeit or falsified documents have been detected, mainly in the Panama Regional Centre, confirmed Silvia Guerra, director in charge of Human Resources of the Ministry of Education. Guerra explained that teachers have arrived at several schools with documents bearing an irregular signature, which appears to be that of Maria Montaner, the Director of the Panama Regional Center, and it was found that her signature had been forged. The official reported that 68 cases have been detected in Central Panama, and another 21 cases in Western Panama, Veraguas and Chiriqui. The irregularities will be investigated and reported administratively for the appropriate action before the Public Ministry. (Telemetro)
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    Protesting Indians Block Road - 60 School Teachers Can't Get To Work

    Schools & EducationProtesting indigenous Indians closed the road this morning to Llano Ņopo, preventing the public school teachers who were trying to reach about 30 schools in the area from getting to their places of work. They are more than six townships in the area of the region which at present cannot be accessed due to the closure of the road by the Indians. According Toribio Garcia, an indigenous leader, they will keep the road to Llano Ņopo closed until the National Government passes the special Law for the region. They want a stop to all mining and hydroelectric projects. Due to this protest about 60 public school teachers have been unable to reach their schools on Monday, the first day of classes throughout the country. The Indians also pointed out that most schools in the district are makeshift huts for parents, and that is where the children receive their lessons. (Estrella)

    Editor's Comment: Can someone explain to me how keeping a public school teacher from reaching a school puts additional pressure on the National Government. I think the government should say "screw that" and bring the teachers back to Panama City. It's simply not safe to have them in this area of conflict until the issues are resolved. And who suffers for the acts of the Indians? Their own children. Dumb. Just plain stupid. Oh, wait a minute...

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