I am a fourth-year PhD student whose research examines the role that national and subnational contexts and cultures play in shaping teaching and learning in the Dominican Republic. I employ a ‘building on strengths’ approach by centring the voices of teachers and students, or those most intimately involved in everyday pedagogical practices. I am a teacher, teacher trainer, and educational consultant for various international development organisations, including Overseas Development Institute, the EdTech Hub, Chemonics, and the World Bank. I have supported research initiatives as well as creative projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and the Middle East.
The Dominican Republic is an anomaly in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean, as it has one of the highest rates of economic production, yet low learning outcomes according to global and regional comparative evaluations. In 2012, the Ministry of Education (MINERD) launched its Educational Revolution to improve the education system through a competency-based curriculum (CBC) and other reforms. However, Dominican public schools continue to face low levels of learning and high levels of school violence.
This study contributes to the literature on effective teaching and learning by examining Dominican teachers’ and students’ perceptions of effectiveness in the context of their schools and classrooms. In this study, the notion of pedagogy is understood as both a cognitive and affective process that is locally situated. I draw on the notion of craft knowledge, the practical knowledge learned from classroom experiences (Brown & McIntyre, 1993) to centre the voices of teachers and students. I employ an ethnographic lens and diverse methods to enquire into the sociocultural processes shaping teacher and student perceptions and practices in two schools on the country’s north coast.
Findings suggest key differences between schools, which shape teachers’ and students’ perceptions of effectiveness. However, all teachers perceive similar challenges, including: the resource- and time-constraint environments in which they work; student conduct; parents’ lack of involvement; and unfulfilled promises by the MINERD. Within these material, social, and political conditions, effective teachers foster culturally congruent communication through a notion I describe as ‘tough love;’ and provide learning opportunities by transforming the CBC into tangible resources or by making connections to students’ lived experiences. At the same time, marginalised groups, including girls, nonconforming and homosexual boys, students of Haitian descent, and over-aged learners face particular challenges and inequities.
The findings thus highlight a complex interplay of both constructive and destructive aspects of pedagogy. I conclude by proposing an adapted framework to understand craft knowledge in the context of the Dominican Republic. The framework highlights the importance of understanding teacher perceptions of their roles, their students, and the curricular subjects they teach; as well as the cultural and personal values and beliefs shaping those perceptions. Moreover, it situates craft knowledge into a socio-ecological system (Bronfenbrenner, 1977) to consider the multifaceted dimensions of teaching and learning. In this system, challenges and opportunities are presented, highlighting the importance of leveraging culture and context to improve effectiveness.