How the return to school is progressing in the other countries of the region

MONTEVIDEO.- The 2020 school year was just starting when the covid-19 sent almost all the students from South America home. Now with the end of the austral summer, schools are trying to reopen their doors despite the misgivings of parents and teachers. In Argentina, some schools started a plan of gradual return to the classrooms that should conclude on March 8.

But, despite the security measures – which include rotating schedules and maintain part of the virtual education – fear is still present in the country that already has 51,100 deaths from coronavirus and more than two million infections.

A teacher works with students during the first day back to face-to-face classes amid the Covid-19 pandemic at the Raúl Antonio Fragoso public school in São Paulo, Brazil, on Monday, February 8, 2021

Nor do teachers feel totally safe to return, and their unions question the precarious means to do so.

Like in Chile, where the teachers’ college has asked to postpone the start of face-to-face classes until April 15, with the most advanced mass vaccination campaign.

The start date remains, however, for March 1, when some 9000 schools -1600 of them private- must start the school year under a hybrid model of face-to-face, for now voluntary, and virtual classes.

“It seems reckless to me because the children will not be able to avoid contact, the teachers will not be 100% aware. The face-to-face classes should start when we are all vaccinated, ”lamented Laura Méndez, mother of a seven-year-old boy.

Chilean schools must comply with preventive measures such as the mandatory use of hand washing masks, avoid concentrations of more than 50 people, disinfect classrooms and set deferred times for entry and exit.

A group of boys wear face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus, while attending a class in Yumbo, department of Valle del Cauca, Colombia, on January 29.

To these is added the complex parallel task of vaccinating more than half a million teachers and school officials, which began 15 days before the start of classes. –

Happy children, anxious parents

More ambitious is the goal of Uruguay, where the school year begins on March 1 with compulsory attendance for students of the public system, despite the misgivings of the teachers’ unions.

Praised for its low contagion rates in the first wave, the small South American country came to resume face-to-face classes on a voluntary basis since last June, although many parents continued to opt for the virtual mode.

Classes began in Yumbo, department of Valle del Cauca, Colombia.

On a similar path he finds Colombia, where the Ministry of Education estimates that face-to-face classes are held today in 60% of the country.

This gradual return, and which combines physical and virtual classrooms for those who wish, started in September, but had to stop due to the increase in infections registered in December and January in some areas of the country.

The reopening was delayed until February 15 in Bogotá and other regions such as Cúcuta (northeast), where Sandra Tristancho returned to take her four-year-old daughter to a private garden for the first time since the suspension decreed on March 15, 2020.

« She was happy (…), we were anxious, » this 36-year-old bank employee told ..

Presence or isolation

The suspension of face-to-face classes has also had an impact on the quality of teaching in a continent that was already experiencing strong inequalities.

« My children were approved because there was not much choice, but the learning did not have the same quality as if they were attending school, » says Vania Ribeiro, a domestic worker with two adolescent children who study at a state school in the interior of Rio de Janeiro .

Second country with the most deaths from coronavirus, Brazil has been hit hard by a pandemic that closed many of its schools for almost a year. After the summer break, some centers began to open, such as the state schools of São Paulo -the richest state in the country-, which resumed face-to-face activities with a capacity of between 35% and 70%, in a rotating system.

The first day of classes at the Dr. Mateo Aturo Bas school, in El Abasto, Buenos Aires Ricardo Pristupluk

Private schools, which account for 19% of primary and secondary students in Brazil, are also resuming their activities, alternating optional face-to-face classes and remote classrooms.

In Rio, however, only 38 centers of the municipal network were authorized to receive students, as they were the only ones with up-to-date hygiene and space infrastructures.

Martina Ajtras attends her first day of face-to-face classes at the Provincia de Cordoba school, in Palermo, on February 17, 2021 Tomás Cuesta

Meanwhile, in Ecuador, where face-to-face classes have been suspended for almost a year for 4.1 million students, the situation of more than one million of them is particularly worrying, without a computer or internet access at home.

The physical return to the classrooms in Peru, which will start the next school year virtually on March 15, does not have a set date either, pending the evolution of the pandemic.

“It is not easy for us to accept another year like this,” laments Serena Rangel, a 36-year-old social communicator with a four-year-old son.

« We need a little more normality so that my son’s development is not affected any more, because we are very concerned about the consequences of being between 3 and 4 years old in social isolation. »