Coronavirus turns Latin American homes into makeshift classrooms

SAN CRISTÓBAL, Venezuela Apr 2 (Reuters) – Vanesa Jaimes studied to be an administrative worker in the Venezuelan health system, but these days she could best be described as a teacher to her four children.

Since the quarantine began in Venezuela in mid-March, Jaimes has spent his days juggling internet access, monitoring WhatsApp chats with the tasks the school sends, and working with each of his children.

Helping 8-year-old Gabriel with math even required him to relearn two- and three-digit division because, like many adults, he hadn’t in years.

“I have an internet that is not very good and when I don’t have it, I use the phone data,” said Jaimes, 33, in a room full of furniture and computers that Gabriel and his seven-year-old brother Mateo make a soccer field in the afternoon.

Children “need to do different things (…) one has to investigate and extract a summary and Gabriel was placed watching YouTube videos,” added Jaimes, who lives in the Andean city of San Cristóbal, near the border with Colombia. .

Jaimes is part of the Latin American mothers and fathers in times of coronavirus.

Although the difficulties are different among students in Latin America, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned in March that “never have so many schools been closed at the same time.”

The spread of the virus, which caused many countries in the region to be quarantined, left at least 154 million children, or more than 95% of enrollment, outside of schools, according to UNICEF.

“If schools are further extended, there is a great risk that boys and girls will fall behind in their learning curve and that the most vulnerable students will not return to classrooms. It is vital that they do not stop learn from home, “said Bernt Aasen, UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In addition, highlighted the Fund, the closure of schools leads to the suspension of other key activities for children such as the school feeding service.

Throughout Latin America, rural areas and poor neighborhoods in cities either lack internet service or are very slow, making it difficult for the most vulnerable children to access the tasks they send via WhatsApp via smartphones.

The government of President Nicolás Maduro has been running a program on state television called “Every family a school” since March and that offers simple content for children of initial, primary and high school education over an hour.

Something similar occurs in Cuba, where since this week two of the eight television channels have been dedicated to classes for schoolchildren from five to 18 years old.

Eva Escalona, ​​director of science and technique at the Cuban Ministry of Education, said that they organized two state television channels so that there was no coincidence in educational levels, “taking into account that there may be several students in one house” from different courses .

Zebrezeit Barrera, a 37-year-old construction engineer in Havana, said that for more than a week she had been teaching her daughter “so that she doesn’t miss school.”

“I’m emphasizing her learning so she doesn’t have to repeat the year,” said Barrera, whose six-year-old daughter Liz is in first grade.

Denisse Gelber, a researcher at the Center for Educational Justice in Chile, said it was unfeasible for parents, some of whom continue to work outside the home, to continue supporting the education of their children.

“Schools are central in most societies because they try to rebalance inequalities where people come from,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are some families that are at a real disadvantage.”

In Chile, where violent street protests erupted last year, teachers, academics and actors called last week in an open letter to television stations to broadcast educational programs to avoid exacerbating “serious inequalities.”

Meanwhile, the country’s top private schools face a riot of annoying parents for paying burdensome tuition in exchange for links to YouTube videos or craft projects.

Dependence on the Internet to maintain education is also driving inequality between urban schools and rural areas with less infrastructure.

Martha Gracia, who teaches information technology at a school in the small Colombian town of Arbeláez, said teachers are submitting assignments via WhatsApp, although only about 30% of them have access to that application.

The rest will have to rely on their parents to collect paper copies of the instructions from a local coordinator.

“Most of the students are from rural areas who have no resources and do not have computers at home,” said Gracia.

In the remote community of Palo Mocho, in southern Venezuela, where internet and cellular signaling is poor, education has returned to its rudimentary roots.

Teachers post a sign at the local warehouse asking parents to visit the school so they can copy homework written on a sheet of paper taped to a wire fence.

“Maintaining class continuity is not easy,” said Ariannys Rengel, 32, the principal of a local school that has been visiting families, sometimes walking up to an hour to get home.

“The government talks about technological advances, but here there is neither a television, nor radios, nor smartphones,” said Rengel.

(Report by Anngy Polanco in San Cristóbal, María de los Angeles Ramírez in Puerto Ordaz, Nelson Acosta in Havana, Oliver Griffin in Bogotá and Aislinn Laing in Santiago. Written by Vivian Sequera; Edited by Javier López de Lérida)