Embarking the PhD journey in Canada as an Ecuadorian Educator

Paulina Huayamave

My name is Paulina Huayamave and I am Ecuadorian.  I have taught and been involved in the education field for more than 20 years. I have had the opportunity to teach in very poor and rural areas, where quality education has become a benefit of just a few. I’ve always been attracted to access equality concepts and how we can make this real so more kids and teenagers can be really empowered and have the necessary tools to get an education, finish their studies and continue to pursue a higher degree. If they successfully complete this cycle, they will have better

chances to break their circle of poverty, improving their quality of life and therefore benefiting their families and local communities.

I first started teaching when I was 17 years old. I travelled to El Salvador in Central America to be a volunteer teacher. I worked in a rural area of the country that – back then in 1998 – had recently signed peace agreements after having approximately 12 years of civil war. Even though I was very young, I knew I wanted to teach and help others in a substantial and constant way for the rest of my life. I learnt and grew a lot as a person, and discovered how much I loved teaching.

At University I studied Economics. I attended the Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral, ESPOL and my major was in Public Policy. I chose this degree as I have always wanted to be involved in the decision making processes of economic and social policies that serve the people, especially the ones who are more in need. Later on, I discovered that education is the key factor with the most influential impact in overcoming poverty of economic, social and cultural situations. At the same time, I started teaching English in a High School in Guayaquil, my home city.

When I graduated from university in 2005, I was able to teach English at the university I had graduated from. I worked at this university for almost 8 years. We had the opportunity to develop professionally, so I completed several international teaching and languages certificates. I became the Academic Coordinator of the Language Centre of the university from 2009 to 2011. As the Academic Coordinator I was in charge of managing the teachers work and timetables (40), lesson planning, syllabus and the academic program writing, teacher´s training and development, students assessments (we had about 2000 students per semester), students’ enquiries, meetings with the university authorities, work for the school international accreditation, teachers’ observations and feedback, among other activities. During this time, I had the opportunity to work for Cambridge University Press Ecuador as their freelance Academic Consultant. This position provided me opportunities to visit many local schools in Ecuador to meet and train English teachers.

Since 2012, I have been working for the Regional Office of Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (SENESCYT). As the Regional Office Director of Higher Education of SENESCYT,  I worked directly with 23 Technical Public Institutions of the Region, supervised principals, provided support on administrative and academic issues to implement the professional programs in five provinces: Guayas, Bolívar, Santa Elena, Los Ríos and Galápagos. This position allowed me to actively contribute to the implementation of the public policy in specific higher education programs and projects.

In 2016, I completed a master’s program in higher education, research and pedagogical innovations in Casa Grande University. My research topic was on teachers’ perceptions of teaching in vulnerable environments. Participants were educators who taught higher education programs to people in jail – the incarcerated. This project was part of a governmental program on Social Policy of rehabilitation. I have written two social research papers and managed to publish one of them. I have participated in several academic encounters as a speaker.

In April 2017 I started working as the School Director of Young Living Academy – a school sponsored by the Young Living Foundation to provide quality education to children living in rural Guayaquil, Chongon. There are 35 teachers and 340 students in this school. Students coming from very vulnerable backgrounds are in financially disadvantaged situations, or suffering from domestic violence. As the Director, I am in charge of all the academic and administrative processes implemented in the school. In the past two years, we have implemented collaborative learning strategies and the multiple intelligences approach. I have designed specific professional development activities and courses for teachers at our Academy, including workshops, study sessions, class observations, giving feedback, peer observations. We have worked on the school curriculum to ensure quality education. The school has started the process of becoming a school recognized by the International Baccalaureate Organization through the Diploma Program, we are officially an “applying school”. 

I’ve had some research experiences through prior academic studies. At undergraduate level, I did a quantitative study on the impact that micro credits had on the poverty decrease of a specific group of women who belonged to a women co-op under the Grameen methodology (a loan for poor women project that started in India). Findings resulted from this study indicated that micro credits have no effect on poverty reduction unless they are accompanied and pushed by a sustained education program that continuously trains and supports the participants. At the masters’ level, I conducted a qualitative study that used teachers’ narratives / biographies to understand educators’ experiences of teaching in a vulnerable environment – jail. Teaching in this context implied that there were different fears, risks and uncertainties that teachers had to go through every day, in addition to all of the other logistical aspects they had to cope with, as this was an incipient policy of social justice regaining as well.

I have found myself enjoying the process of doing research, as I do think it is the only way of improving our own teaching practices – trial and error, keeping records, analyzing data, revising literature, and coming up with feedback and innovations as to what happens in the classroom. I am eager to keep studying, to experience other contexts and cultures, to witness other teaching-learning environments.

For all these reasons, I’ve decided to start this new journey of doing a PhD program in Educational Studies in Canada. I feel the need to learn more. I feel the need to be better prepared. I am one hundred percent sure that by reading literature, doing research, analyzing situations, environments, people, among other criteria, I will have more tools to come up with strategies and conclusions that could be implemented in the field so that we can benefit especially vulnerable sectors.

At the moment, there are many ideas I’d like to investigate more. I have thought about many potential topics. I am really interested in working closely with teachers of undeveloped countries where quality education is not yet available for all. I’m keen on topics related to how education helps in social justice assertion processes. I want to analyze the impact of education in vulnerable areas, what teaching practices might work best, and the crucial role teachers play in and outside of the classroom. The first step of this PhD journey is to be able to start narrowing all my thoughts or ideas so I can define more specific research topics.