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Participative Citizenship in Mashpi, Ecuador: Meaningful and Sustainable Models for Education and Conservation

"This ethnography was motivated by its subject, the Río Mashpi Public School in the rural community of Mashpi, Ecuador, and the transformational reform it has undergone in the last four years through efforts from students, teachers, parents, and community governance that supports collective action. The 2008 Constitution of Ecuador declared the rights of all peoples under the principle of Buen Vivir, an Indigenous philosophy of well-being, and the government since then has not fulfilled its promises to support integrated education for all. The the goal of this paper is to exemplify how quality education can be achieved with limited resources and minimal governmental support by promoting the integration of environmental education and participative citizenship. I saw these processes firsthand when I volunteered as a temporary teaching assistant at the Río Mashpi school. This position gave me the opportunity to interview a wide range of community members, analyze the pedagogical transformation, and employ a participatory approach to this research.

I found that environmental conservation efforts made the community more willing to adopt educational reforms and that the school and the community’s primary natural resources (the forest and the river) mirrored one another’s systems of governance. Empirical results also show that collective action around these issues had a positive influence on the students’ learning capacities, behavioral patterns, and shifted general cultures of abuse in the community. I conclude that self-directed environmental conservation creates meaningful and sustainable community-led institutions that further uplift historically disenfranchised rural populations. The findings are also contextualized within Ecuador’s political history regarding public infrastructure and educational funding. The results of this paper have ample potential to be diffused into other regions to improve education and exemplify how schools and communities with limited financial resources can make profound change. "