Schools in Latin America : one year after the COVID-19 pandemic started, what’s the situation?

Schools in Latin America
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This week marks one year since the COVID-19 pandemic appeared in Latin America and its countries started, the one after the other, to close schools. Most countries have kept them closed ever since, and some have only just started reopening them again this year, others not. According to data from the UNICEF, children from Latin America and the Caribbean are those who have spent the longest time out of school. And given the economical and social situation, on-distance education reveals to be complicated. So what’s the situation like?

Chile going back to school

Beginning of March marks the start of a new school year in Chile, as the austral summer comes to an end. After 11 months of distance learning, the government has decided to let the children go back to school, namely to avoid too many school dropouts. Many children are thrilled to get out of their houses and go back to school, meet up again with their friends and teachers. But this decision also causes controversy. Why? The country recently started its vaccination program, and with over a million people vaccinated in the first week, it is now considered as a model of efficiency. However, teachers and parents worry about the efficiency of sanitary protocols, they wanted the government to wait for all teachers and school employees to be vaccinated with both needed doses before opening the schools. But the government refused, arguing that the return to school in-person is not mandatory, but only for volunteers.

A partial return to school in Argentina

Argentina made the same choice last month, as their school year started mid-february. After almost a year at home, schools have started reopening little by little in various parts of the country. The reopening was done over several days, and the careful and strict protocol led to unusual scenes: children standing in lines on the street over a complete block, waiting patiently for their turn to enter the school. Among the strict rules is the limited number of students per classroom, but also the limited hours of presence inside the premises – only 4 hours a day, every two weeks, the other week remaining on distance. Pupils with health issues or living with vulnerable people are exempt and will stay home for now.

Controversy in Uruguay

In Uruguay, criticism was even stronger when the new school year started on March 1st. Uruguay is the only country of the region, together with Suriname, to have chosen for a mandatory return to school in person. After just a week of school, teachers were already thinking of organizing a strike, for two reasons: on the one hand, the decision to reopen the schools coincides with an increase of positive cases and on the other hand, also for demands related to means and salaries. But also because of the obligation to return to school, when many families express doubts and apprehension, and while neighboring countries let families decide whether their children return to school or stay home.

A complicated situation for schools in Brazil

In Brazil, the new school year has started, depending on regions and schools, between end of January and beginning of February. Several states have decided to reopen their schools. For instance, in São Paulo, public and private schools were able to reopen with limited hours and students and reinforced sanitary protocols. Unfortunately, the situation is worsening in the country and various states already think about closing up schools again, as many infections have been confirmed in the schools since they reopened (700 infections and 11 schools closed again after only one week of school, and at least 20 deceased of which 2 children).

Peru still overweighing options

In Peru, the new school year is only starting on March 15th. The government has informed it is planning on reopening the schools here too, little by little, region per region, according to the evolution of the pandemic situation.

Schools in Ecuador are still mostly closed

In Ecuador, there are two different school calendars, one for the coast, one for the rest of the country. On the coast, the school year goes from May to March, which means it is ending, after a complete year at home. No decision has yet been taken concerning the return to school in May. The rest of the country follows a school calendar that goes from September to July. It started online in September and so far schools are still closed. Only a limited number of countryside schools have been allowed to reopen, in order to avoid increasing school dropouts. The country had started to implement a program to reopen schools in the end of 2020 but everything has been suspended due to the deterioration of the pandemic situation.

A diverse situation in Colombia

In Colombia, the school year has started end of January with very diverse situations depending on regions. Some continue with distance learning while others have started implementing “alternation”, partly at school and partly at home. Just as in other South American countries, the return to school is controversial.

Similar situations and difficulties in Latin America

This is where we are in various countries of Latin America, although we are not covering all of them. But it shows how similar their situations are within this region, which is very badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. In other parts of the world, many countries have preferred to reopen schools while closing up various economical sectors. In Latin America, on the other hand, priority has been given to economical needs, stores, businesses and many sectors have reopened but education has remained behind, closed. It is a complex and controversial subject, as many people here think it is a duty of the government to protect the children from the pandemic. For example, in Ecuador, various complaints were filed against the authorities after the reopening of some rural schools, for endangering health and life of the children when the same authorities intensify propaganda to exhort people to protect themselves…

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