The Privilege of Receiving Education in Latin America During COVID-19

Empty classroom. Photo by Max Klingensmith, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-ND 2.0).

The COVID-19 pandemic forced governments to urgently adopt policies to deal with the crisis, but in many cases, this strongly affected areas such as education.

According to UNICEF, 114 million students in Latin America and the Caribbean had to drop out of face-to-face classes in 2020. This region continues to struggle, as fewer students have been able to return to classrooms.

Given this situation, each Latin American government has adopted strategies to try and make education more accessible. However, it is important to note that the educational crisis within these countries is not new.

Before the pandemic, alarming numbers exposed critical problems related to educational poverty and lack of opportunities. As an example of this, 51% of students cannot read correctly at the age of 10, and only 77% of 15-year-old students have Internet access.

It has not been easy implementing policies to support children in receiving a dignified virtual education. Many children do not have access to televisions, computers, and the Internet. As a result of this marginalized situation, 3 million children are predicted to drop out of their studies due to the pandemic.

Mexico’s education system was not prepared for online classes. To take on the challenge, the government implemented the program Aprende en casa (Learn at home), in which teaching is done through television for elementary and secondary grade children.

However, this system has received some criticism due to the lack of communication between the teacher and student, unguided lessons, and a lack of academic support.

The biggest problem is that not everyone has access to virtual education, especially those in rural communities where only 48% have Internet access, compared to 77% of the population in urban areas.

Another country facing problems with education due to the inequality gap is Peru, where 20% of the population lives in poverty and only 7% out of 20% had access to the Internet before the pandemic began.

Like the Mexican government, The Peruvian government created the program Aprendo en casa (I learn at home) so children could continue their studies remotely using the Internet, radio, and television.

However, approximately 60% of students in rural areas have been unable to receive proper learning as a result of the lack of technology. While the government pledged to give tablets to low-income children, many of them still had to miss their classes because the distribution began until October 2020, six months after the school year started.

Along with this problem, the government has had to meet the high demand in public schools, since nearly half a million students switched from private to public schools due to the economic crisis in February 2021.

In Ecuador, the scenario repeated, with the Ministry of Education launching their educational plan to offer resources for remote learning. However, this has not been entirely successful, since only 37% of Ecuadorian households have Internet connection overall, with only 16% having connectivity in rural areas.

In the case of Ecuadorian private schools and most Latin American countries, students have platforms specially designed to take online classes. Although they also face different obstacles, they have greater tools to continue to acquire knowledge. This demonstrates how the economic gap increasingly affects development and educational opportunities.

However, there was one exception. Uruguay contrasted to most Latin American countries because they already utilized digital learning platforms for the past 10 years through the “Ceibal Plan”.

The long-term use of technology in education also secured a higher percentage of Internet accessibility within the student population. As of 2009, 100% of their students had an electronic device connected to the Internet, allowing more success in reaching virtual classrooms. This then made the transition from face-to-face to online classes much easier in 2020.

Overall, it is inevitable that there will be gaps during this global crisis. In this case, the education of children has been and will continue to be strongly affected. Therefore, governments must prioritize this issue so everyone can exercise their right to receive an education despite their socioeconomic position.

Read more from the Americas section here.