October 2021 is the month proposed by the government for 10 million Venezuelan students return to classrooms, after an average of 18 months of distance education due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As stated by Nicolás Maduro, the return to face-to-face classes It will be carried out under a 7 + 7 scheme. This means that students will attend the classroom for one week and then go through the next week in quarantine.
For teachers and professors unions, the plan to start the new School Year 2021-2022 does not correspond to the reality that is experienced throughout the country.
“Any proposal, including 7 + 7, if it is not supported by a security plan that contemplates the necessary conditions for the school event to take place, will be completely a failure,” said Raquel Figueroa, coordinator of the Democratic Unit of the Educational Sector and union leader of the Federation of the College of Teachers of Venezuela, to Cocuyo effect.
From the teaching sectors, measures are demanded that guarantee a safe return to classes. Likewise, they highlight the deterioration of the infrastructure of the schools, especially in the interior of Venezuela and in the states that were deeply affected by the August rains. For example, in the Tovar de Mérida municipality there are schools that are used as shelters for victims and others that suffered total losses.
Are the schools ready to return to face-to-face classes? CocuyoSurvey
“We are clear that we need our face-to-face classes with our boys. What we are asking is that the State does not play with the lives of educational personnel: they must guarantee the conditions to start. Today we do not have them, “said Professor Edgar Machado, president of the Venezuelan Union of Teachers of the Capital District, who also recalled that 90% of the schools in Caracas have an infrastructure in poor condition.
Venezuela is not the only country that does not meet the conditions to receive young people in schools. According to the UNICEF regional report in April, Peru and Ecuador also enter the list. The first has not scheduled a date for the start of classes and in the second they resumed on September 1, 2021.
What do the unions require to return to classes?
The conditions demanded of the State by the educational unions are divided into six aspects, according to Raquel Figueroa.
1️⃣There is a need for a total disinfection of all schools, “but this disinfection should not correspond only to one day, but must be progressive.”
2️⃣A permanent delivery plan for biosafety instruments such as face masks or gel is required. “That is necessary and indispensable,” he said.
Edgar Machado indicated that the Ministry of Education must establish a biosafety protocol to work in schools and not leave it to the discretion of each campus.
“How are groups of more than 25 young people going to be cared for in a classroom? Are they going to be divided? How are we going to control biosecurity within the campuses?” He asked.
3️⃣Water service must be guaranteed in schools, a problem that educational centers tend to suffer at the national level.
4️⃣The restoration of school feeding program,
5️⃣It urges attention to the deficit of specialists,
6️⃣And the teacher salary increase. Those are the points requested from the Ministry of Education.
Likewise, Machado pointed out the importance of vaccination plans for all educational personnel. He commented that if an efficient immunization scheme is not carried out, schools and high schools will become major sources of contagion. To date, the unions say that less than 15% of teachers have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“What we ask of the ministry is to be serious and responsible, to tell the truth about how many teachers are protected so far. Right now, the total population of teachers, workers and administrators is not 100% inoculated. Be careful, we want to work, but work safely ”, stated Machado.
What do the teachers say?
Dai Uzcatia, a teacher at the Fe y Alegría school network, indicates that the low salaries in the teaching sector have caused many to give up going back to the classroom. Only in the school where he works are requesting 10 new teachers of initial education, culture, computer science and sports.
“Most of the teachers are in that dilemma, because they looked for another alternative to get money into their homes. What can happen is that they drop out of education because it is not profitable. I have colleagues who are not coming back: some are giving directed homework and say it is preferable. I’m waiting ”, he explained to Cocuyo effect. The administrative part and the teaching organization of Fe y Alegría will begin on September 16.
How much does it cost teachers to go back to teaching in schools?
On the other hand, Uzcatia also works as a teacher at Simón Rodríguez de los Ruices, a national school. He commented that several teachers on the campus are offended by the payment and treatment they receive there. He reported that one of the coordinators said that the Ministry of Education pays the Simón Rodríguez bonus ($ 3.75 at the exchange rate) and that the teachers must pay for the biosecurity implements themselves because “there is nothing” at school.
“You cannot ask a teacher to go to work in a classroom for a salary that does not reach 4 dollars, without guarantee of biosecurity or a room in good condition. I am not going back. I am vaccinated, but I will not return. I think that vocation also has a limit ”, said Rebeca Moreno, a mathematics teacher at Cocuyo effect.
Alejandro Fernández, professor of Physical Education at the Coromoto de Petare municipality, commented that it makes no sense to return because there is no established plan for how the classes are going to be taught.
“I suppose they will start without Physical Education, because it is impossible to dictate it without the boys having to take off their masks,” he said.
Jesica Pernía, a primary education teacher, agreed with the start of the new school year in person: “I work in a private school with adequate spaces and a good security protocol. I know that my reality is not that of others, but the truth is that the virus could last for years and we cannot have the children at home all that time. They need their school routine back. ”
The position of the Venezuelan parents
Lila Vega, pediatrician and coordinator of the Venezuelan Network of Parents and Representatives, expressed that the return to face-to-face classes must be safe, flexible and voluntary, respecting teachers and families who decide not to return for safety or personal reasons.
On the other hand, he assured that another year of remote classes would profoundly affect young Venezuelans, especially those who could not study due to the crisis of public services or little access to the Internet. Although he is aware that the infrastructure of the schools is in a precarious state, he affirmed that it is necessary to return to the classrooms as UNICEF has already warned in several Latin countries.
“If there is any infrastructure condition that leads to insecurity, of course the school cannot be opened. But if it is a matter of keys, floors, windows without glass: this is how the school year can begin. Once they are open, it is much easier to correct those faults. I believe that an effort should be made to start, regardless of whether the infrastructure is not completely in tune ”, he commented.
The parent network rejects the scheme 7 + 7 proposed from the government. According to Vega, schools must open every week because, otherwise, the continuity of learning would be lost and they would be facing an intermittent teaching process.
“You have to be aware that schools are going to need to close at any given time: there are going to be cases of COVID-19, we cannot avoid that. And when that happens, we may have to close a room or two. In the end it will be very cumbersome to open the school one week, yes, the other not, and then close it because some cases were detected ”, he explained.
The doctor concluded by recalling that schools are spaces of protection and equity par excellence, so it is urgent to return to the classrooms with a functional strategy.
Others like Carmen Rodríguez, a saleswoman, are reluctant to send their children to classrooms. “I will continue to pay for classes attended, but I will not risk my boy. I have taken great care of him during these pandemic months. Nor do I know if it is safe to give him the vaccine, he is 13 years old, “he replied.
What is the school dynamics in other countries?
Uruguay was the first country in Latin America to open schools. It began in stages from April 22, 2020 and ended the last phase on June 29 of that year. According to Unicef, the Uruguayan model of return to the classroom was extremely successful.
Photo: EFE. Return to classes in Uruguay, during July 2021
On a voluntary basis, with strict health protocols guaranteed by the State and flexible hours, in Uruguay it was possible to reintegrate more than 60% of primary school students and 70% of high school students. Their strategy was based on a staggered return with days that did not exceed 4 hours a day. In addition, the classrooms were divided into two groups and there were breaks by levels.
In Colombia, a neighboring country to Venezuela, classes began progressively in the second week of July 2021. In Argentina, schools began to open in mid-February and in Mexico on August 30. The way in which Venezuela will open the doors of its schools, abandoned since March of last year, still keeps all the protagonists of the education sector on the lookout.