A Discussion with Yénifer López Ramos, Director of Formal Education, Entreculturas, Madrid, Spain
May 23, 2018
Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in May 2018 undergraduate student Grace Koehl interviewed Yénifer López Ramos, director of formal education for Entreculturas in Madrid, Spain. In this interview, Ramos discusses her work integrating themes of global citizenship into curriculum for Spanish schools.
What is your name?
My name is Yénifer López Ramos. I am in the Formal Education department at Entreculturas.
Can you tell me a little more about what you do at Entreculturas?
At Entreculturas I am in the Citizenship department, in the part that is most closely linked with Formal Education. I am the manager of the department. As the manager, I coordinate with schools in Spain and try to work with them and integrate themes of justice, human rights, and global citizenship in their schools.
What types of schools do you work with?
There are three types of schools. On one hand, one priority area is in the numerous Jesuit schools in Spain. In our zone, there are 60 Jesuit schools. So, my job is to work directly with them. On the other hand, we also work with schools that are part of other religious congregations or co-ops. And finally, we work with public schools. Those are the three levels of the work. And it’s true that now there is greater demand in the Jesuit schools. However, we also work in other schools.
What are the goals of Entreculturas’ formal education work?
Within the Formal Education department, we work in two areas. One area is the education of faculty on themes related to education and citizenship, justice, and equity. The other area is the creation of plans to incorporate these lessons into the school community. We do this so that the lessons are not one-time activities, but rather that they have a central role in the school.
How is Entreculturas’ formal education work integrated with the general education of recipient students?
If we are talking about the comprehensive education of a person, it is necessary to include education on global citizenship and social justice. These topics are relevant to the comprehensive education of the whole person. One of the most recent UNESCO reports talks about global competencies. It introduces these themes as important and necessary skills that a student must acquire. Also, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which is criticized for how and what it evaluates, started to assess global competency in 2018. These documents from UNESCO and PISA talk about the importance of every student receiving an education that prepares them to work towards and build sustainable development for our world.
Along with that, themes of global citizenship, social justice, and reconciliation were named as priorities for Jesuit schools at the 2017 International Congress. Entreculturas had already been working on these topics before all this, but the new frameworks and recognition make the work easier and give us a sense of support from international publications.
Does Jesuit identity play a role in Entreculturas’ formal education work?
All of the education work that we do is inspired by three main focuses. The first main focus is global citizenship. The second focus is linked to where we came from as an organization. We came from Fe y Alegría, the popular education movement. As such, our work comes from a place of ethics, politics, and pedagogy. The third main focus is Ignatian pedagogy. These three frameworks define the education work conducted by Entreculturas. That being said, we can’t forget that we also belong to the Society of Jesus and refer to Jesuit teachings and identity. These are also key concepts for us, such as [Superior General of the Society of Jesus Pedro] Arrupe’s idea of education to create men and women for others, or [Superior General Peter-Hans] Kolvenbach’s idea of educating people to be conscious, competent, compassionate, and committed.
Are there challenges associated with introducing more spiritual themes as part of Entreculturas’ formal education in public schools?
There is some difficulty. In Spain, it is difficult to work on religious topics, especially in public schools. Themes related to spirituality are easier. However, when an NGO related to the Jesuits comes in, people suppose that they are going to do explicit pastoral education. When we work with public schools, they know that these beliefs are at the crux of what we do, but we aren’t working specifically with religious topics. In the education sector, Jesuit education is highly valued; Jesuit values are definitely part of the conversation. And then there are topics related to religion and spirituality that we don’t work on in public schools. Instead, we do this work with Jesuit schools. Nonetheless, these beliefs and values are at the core of our education work. The Jesuits are seen as educational innovators.
What are the advantages of global competency and citizenship education for youth?
In general, working on these ideas with children and youth is super important in the world that we live in today with all of its challenges. We are talking about intercultural competencies, like respectful dialogue, that go hand in hand with things like analysis and political understanding. It’s difficult to learn these lessons once you’re already 20 or 25 years old and out of school. Just like you work on skills like reading or math, you need to learn how to live in the world.
What are the most important lessons that participating youth can learn through Entreculturas’ formal education programs?
The most important lesson that participating youth can learn through Entreculturas’ formal education program is the idea of connecting with other people globally. We have the advantage of being part of an organization that allows us to cooperate and connect the realities of different people. I believe that these links, for young people today, are fundamental. It helps them get much more familiar with other realities. In some cases, when we talk about working on global citizenship, we look for how this relates to what is close to the students and their personal experiences to show that these topics truly affect them. And sometimes, the objective is to make friends with different realities. Because, when someone is your friend, you care about them. And I think that the youth that we’ve worked with have discovered these links and consider that very important. Additionally, another important lesson is the theme of taking action now and not having to wait until they are older. Right now youth can be changing things, connecting realities, and relating to global issues. Whether they are children or teenagers, they don’t need to wait to graduate from college to get started.
How is the desire to create links between participating youth in Spain and other global realities realized?
Due to our connections with Fe y Alegría and the Jesuit Refugee Service, it’s a lot easier for Entreculturas to be in contact with people. We don’t need to spend time creating contacts with people in these organizations because we already have these relationships. We already have the opportunities to connect teachers, students, and children. We have the chance to facilitate these connections in a horizontal plane where they can share their problems, solutions, and experiences. We are able to accomplish this is by having these relationships in other countries. Right now, for example, there is a program in our formal education department where the Fe y Alegría management in Spain and Latin America are getting together to reflect on educational innovation and social change.
How does the formal education programming fit within the general mission of Entreculturas?
The general mission of Entreculturas is to promote processes of personal and community change. We also protect, defend, and work on the right to education worldwide. All of our educational processes and programming are what support this theme of working on transformation and linking the right to a quality education to this change. So, I think that the formal education programming goes quite well with Entreculturas’ mission: education, personal and community transformation, and global change.
Why did you decide to work for Entreculturas?
I have been working here since 2006. The education world has always been very, very important to me. I had an experience where I lived in Bolivia for 7 years, during which I was very connected to education there. I worked with the schools there on pedagogy. I was also connected with Fe y Alegría on pastoral topics and on their radio education program, which is called “Teachers in House.” Even my husband, who is Bolivian, studied at a Fe y Alegría school. So, the connection with Fe y Alegría is very strong. When we returned to Spain as a family, the opportunity presented itself to work at Entreculturas. The position had a lot to do with what I had lived in Bolivia. It was very connected to Entreculturas’ identity and Fe y Alegría’s identity. So, my arrival at Entreculturas had to do with those opportunities I had in Bolivia. And that is also why I continue working here. It connects the educational vocation with personal experiences that unite me with another reality that is different than the Spanish reality. For me, those global connections are something that I live personally and in the education sector.
Do you think that your experiences in Bolivia have affected your sense of obligation to Entreculturas?
Yes, it did. Many opportunities that I have had are linked to that experience. Also, the experience makes me connect the realities of Spain and Latin America because I was so connected with the education world in Bolivia; I was a teacher, and I worked with youth there.