Fear presides over the return of thousands of students in Latin America

Uncertainty, fear, skepticism, controversy … These are some of the effects of an issue that has most nations in check: the return to face-to-face classes. And contradictions and fears grow even more in developing countries, especially due to the unequal conditions that children and adolescents face. and due to the scarcity of resources in many educational centers.

That happens in several cities in Latin America, the most unequal region on the planet and now the epicenter of the pandemic, which yesterday exceeded six million patients and added a total of 237,829 deaths from coronavirus. As if the scale of the catastrophe were small, children will not only face the latent danger of the virus, but, according to the experts consulted by this newspaper, there will be consequences for their mental health in a context unknown to them and a constant control that it will impede proper interpersonal and emotional development.


A return to the classroom early and between critics

Despite the fear of contagions, the uncertainty since it is the second country most affected by the voracious disease, Brazil has gone ahead to return to school. Specifically in Manaus, the capital of the State of Amazonas, a city that until a few weeks ago had its health and funeral systems collapsed.

After five months without going to the classroom, some 110,000 children and adolescents returned to public schools this week in that state, whose records of deaths and positives amount to 3,384 and 107,197, respectively. Although, according to the authorities, the pandemic has already been controlled in the region. The return to classes has a series of protocols that range from the use of masks, a reduced number of students in the classrooms and a strict control of hygiene.

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This decision, however, is viewed in Brazil with great skepticism about the pandemic threat, since the country has almost half the number of deaths in the continent, with more than 100,000. There are several voices that oppose the fierce uncertainty.

Like the Brazilian professor Fran Bernardes, who does not see “nothing good” the return to face-to-face classes at this time, because she fears that both students and teachers “will be uneasy because there is still a very risky context, and there is no proven protocol system ». Something that “puts the life at risk” of everyone involved, he points out.

In the Brazilian state of Espiritu Santo, where she works, it is possible that the return to the classroom will be in September, a decision that for Bernardes would subject the teachers to high stress because he believes that, even if there are protocols, they cannot guarantee that the teachers “Children follow the rules” and that there are no infections. She thinks that with adolescents it will be easier because they are more aware of the situation, however, “controlling” the little ones will be a challenge that has several risks.

Chilean child and adolescent psychologist Paula Valdevenito agrees with Bernardes because “children do not have these preventive measures internalized in their routines.” “They will be afraid of how they have to behave in front of other people.” Above all, she assures, they will present anxiety because any preventive measure that they forget to do can be “a door towards the contagion of Covid-19.”

The situation in Latin America cannot be generalized, because each nation presents extreme contrasts. Both due to the resources of the families, the precarious access to the internet of many populations, the different conditions of public and private centers, as well as the cases of coronavirus.

Such is the case of San Juan, the first Argentine province to resume school activities after they were suspended throughout the country in mid-March. This district has presented a completely different panorama from Manaus, since it is the Argentine region with the lowest number of cases, with only 22 of the 246,499 confirmed infections in the country.


The crisis increases enrollment in the public network

Panama has high rates of social inequality and education is one of the sectors in which this reality is most evident. Now the Covid-19 crisis has accentuated these contrasts and has led many parents who had their children enrolled in private schools to transfer them to public institutions, whose classes were resumed in July. According to a study, less than 30% of the country’s families can currently pay the fees of private centers.

The public alternative, however, appears to be lacking. Several teachers in the country assure that “the public system does not have the physical or curricular infrastructure to absorb so many children. They are not hiring teachers and the law establishes a maximum capacity of 35 students per classroom, but there are schools that do not even have that capacity, ”the teachers denounce.

The ‘Latin oasis’

Uruguay, leading the way in school attendance

This is an isolated example in the Latin American region. According to experts, Uruguay has the conditions to have resumed classes in educational centers. Although its virtual education has been strengthened, the country is committed to face-to-face education, because for its teachers nothing substitutes “face-to-face” teaching.

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Unlike other regions, this ‘Latin oasis’ has been praised for its successful control of the pandemic, without a mandatory quarantine. It has 3.4 million inhabitants and, so far, it has 1,318 cases and 37 deaths from coronavirus. After a month, there has been no source of contagion in the classrooms.

Other states

The severity of the epidemic prevents the opening of schools

In other states much more affected by the pandemic such as Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile or Peru, there are still no official dates for returning to the classroom. All these continue with the virtual dynamics. In Chile, for example, the Government is studying a gradual and voluntary return in certain centers as of September, but, according to the psychologist Paula Valdevenito, the College of Teachers “opposes this measure” due to the lack of clarity in the protocols .

The fears are more than justified. The experts consulted by this newspaper agree on the enormous difficulties for students and also for teachers, who will be subjected to disproportionate stress. On them falls the responsibility of constant control. And the students are going to feel anxious, insecure and unstable. This return will affect their social behavior and will leave a mark on academic learning, ”says Valdevenito, who still does not see it feasible to resume face-to-face classes. An option that, for the moment, seems unfeasible in several countries, where the most critical moments of the pandemic are being experienced.


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