The post-Covid education crisis in Latin America is imminent

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Throughout the pandemic, Diana Gómez Guerra switched back and forth between caring for customers in her store in Mexico City and trying to tutor her 10-year-old daughter.

Her daughter, Helen Michelle, piled large bottles of Coca-Cola on the ceiling from a small storage room in the back, and her homework—especially math—was very difficult.

“I tried to explain things in one way, but she didn’t understand,” Gómez Guerra recalled her attempt to teach decimals. “So she had to wait until Thursday to ask the teacher”-the day Helen Michele took video lessons once a week.

The coronavirus pandemic has already punished Latin America, leading to a surge in deaths and an economic downturn. This region accounts for 8% of the world’s population, but accounts for about one-third of the global Covid-19 deaths.

Now, it has caused an education crisis in a region that has been riddled with inequality and has been lagging behind academic performance for a long time.

For most of the pandemic, schools in Latin America have been closed, forcing students to study remotely—usually via unstable mobile and Internet connections. According to data from UNICEF, the suspension lasts longer than any other region in the world. The organization estimated in a June report that 100 million students in Latin America were affected by all or part of school suspensions.

Two girls and a mother watch a class broadcast on TV by the Mexican government © Cristopher Rogel Blanquet/Getty Images

The impact of school closures for such a long time is difficult to measure, but there are reasons to worry. The World Bank estimates that the long-term closure may cost the region US$1.7 trillion in future revenue losses. According to data from the national statistical service INEGI, about 1.8 million Mexicans have dropped out of school due to the epidemic. Colombian NGOs report that criminal organizations recruiting young people who have abandoned school have increased.

The silence on reopening schools raises disturbing questions about Latin American priorities.

“From a future perspective, we made a costly choice,” said Carolina Campos, founder of Vozes da Educação, a Brazilian education consulting company. “We chose to open stores and businesses, but closed schools.”

Brazil has resumed classes, but the resumption situation varies by state and city. After loud protests from middle-class professionals who did not have childcare options, Argentina reopened schools.

Mexico closed schools throughout the pandemic—except for brief openings in some states, which were cut off due to deteriorating health. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has taken a laissez-faire approach to the epidemic, but he announced that the face-to-face courses will finally be held on August 30 Daily recovery.

“This is not only an educational issue, but also a social issue,” López Obrador said. “We can’t let our kids be locked up or rely on Nintendo. It’s really poisonous.”

In October 2020, students attend classes in a temporary classroom in the courtyard of a school in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Students attend classes in a temporary classroom in the courtyard of a school in Buenos Aires, Argentina, October 2020 © Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

At the time of the reopening, the Delta Coronavirus variants surged, and there was growing concern about its impact on unvaccinated children. Lopez Obrador was not worried. He told reporters: “We have to take certain risks throughout our lives.” A government tweet insisted: “There is no evidence in the world that Covid-19 is prevalent among minors. “

Teachers have been vaccinated, but Mexico has not yet approved vaccination for children and adolescents.

A poll conducted by the El Financiero newspaper found that 56% of parents in Mexico City opposed the resumption of face-to-face courses. According to a survey by the Mexico City Human Rights Commission, approximately 70% of children want to return to school.

“If our health is not good, then our education will be worse,” said Marco Fernández, a professor at the Monterey Institute of Technology.

López Obrador promoted austerity throughout the pandemic and spent less than 1% of GDP on Mexico’s response. The austerity measures include education and not subsidizing Internet access or equipping students. Teachers attend classes when the internet connection is weak-usually out of pocket. TV courses have added products.

“The rule here is: everyone does what they can,” said Alma Maldonado, an education researcher at Cinvestav, Mexico.

The teachers said that they have been overworked and have been faced with problems one after another and have to deal with indifferent parents.

The National Union of Teachers of Mexico supports returning to the classroom, even though dissidents in several states oppose the president’s plan. Teachers protesting working conditions prevented López Obrador’s morning press conference in southern Chiapas on Friday, forcing him to speak to reporters from his sport utility vehicle. “I will not give in to blackmail,” the president said.

Concerns about overcrowding have also surfaced. A fourth-grade teacher said that she enrolled 30 students in a classroom designed for 20 students.

A teacher holds a whiteboard during an online class at her home in Matamoros, Mexico
A teacher holds a whiteboard during an online class at her home in Matamoros, Mexico © Sergio Flores/AFP/Getty Images

School infrastructure is often dilapidated or lacking; according to the Secretariat of Public Education, 23% of Mexican school buildings do not have running water.

Rodolfo Soriano-Núñez, a Mexican sociologist who studies education, said: “Even private schools cannot guarantee the proper conditions for a complete return.”

The poor state of school infrastructure illustrates the broader education problem. Latin American students did not perform well in the PISA exam, which assesses 15-year-old students’ learning in mathematics, science, and reading and is supervised by the OECD.

At the same time, with the exception of Argentina, parents have little pressure to reopen public and private schools.

The economist Rafael de Hoyos attributes this indifference to education and is not always seen as a means of social mobility in Latin America. He also pointed out: “The low female labor force participation rate in Latin America-further reduced due to the pandemic-has led to insufficient urgency to resume face-to-face courses.”

“Public opinion polls before the pandemic show that people value education,” said De Hoyos, who teaches at the Autonomous Technical Institute of Mexico. “But the pandemic shows our true explicit preference.”

Gomez Guerra wants her daughter to return to class, although she doubts it. She served customers who refused to wear masks or social distancing constantly in the store, which prompted her to think loudly: “If it is difficult for adults to wash their hands and social distancing, what about children?”

But her daughter was tired of being locked up in a two-bedroom apartment, Gómez Guerra said. She missed the course, as well as the capoeira and computer courses there.

“It was a very painful experience,” Gómez Guerra said. “Maybe we have to learn to coexist with this virus and teach [our children] They must take precautions. ”

Reported by Michael Pooler and Carolina Pulice in São Paulo and Ignacio Portes in Buenos Aires

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