DISTANCE EDUCATION? REALITIES AND CHALLENGES POSED BY COVID-19

DISTANCE EDUCATION? REALITIES AND CHALLENGES POSED BY COVID-19

COVID-19 has put governments in an unprecedented crisis measuring in real terms the responsiveness and governance they have over the countries beyond speeches. Experiences have spoken for themselves, in Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, the government’s response capacity to the emergency has been the best example of governance in crisis, so much so, that after 11 weeks of quarantine and 1 week without presenting new infections, the city recently lifted the confinement and tries to return to normality, making it known that a re-emergence of the epidemic is possible, so prevention recommendations must be maintained.

Unlike China, we can evaluate the European experiences that even when are smaller States in population and territory, have not been able to control the pandemic in health terms and are currently facing very hard times, mainly Spain and Italy, followed by France and Germany. In Spain and Italy, the result of not taking the restrictions in time to reduce infections and therefore deaths from COVID-19 has been evidenced. However, although the situation has gotten out of control in these countries, governments have tried to guarantee a welfare state by taking social protection and economic policies.

The United States, the country that applied laissez-faire in response to COVID-19, is leading the number of infections and ranks third in the number of deaths from the virus, they are currently taking economic policies, although social protection policies are being expected.

These experiences have been the most significant due to the number of reported infections and deaths, but almost all countries in the world (except those that have not provided data) currently have infections and deaths from the virus. Amid the chaotic world situation, there are much more vulnerable regions than others, with much weaker states that difficult us from thinking about an optimistic scenario.

Latin America is one of these regions where the problems of each country added to the policies and restrictions that should have been taken as a consequence of COVID-19 surpass them and even when the curve of contagions and deaths in the region is just beginning to increase, widespread fear by the absence of government responses. Venezuela in a political and economic crisis that is already in its seventh year, Colombia and Peru with problems due to the inability to respond for the migrant population, Bolivia with a political crisis after the recent coup d’etat against Evo Morales and Ecuador already in a health crisis for deaths caused by COVID-19, are some of the reasons that suggest that in the region the impact of the pandemic can not only be much stronger but can be continuous until the vaccine is discovered, since most of the countries of the region have great difficulties in responding economically, healthily, and socially to the needs of the population.

Venezuela and the rapid adoption of preventive recommendations of COVID-19

Despite being in an unprecedented economic, political, and social situation, Venezuela has quickly taken the necessary WHO recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to President Nicolás Maduro: “In Venezuela, there has been no use of force, in Venezuela, there has been a constitutional call to assume a situation of world crisis and go out to seek a national collective goal for life and health” and Delcy Rodríguez mentioned in a broadcast television on March 25th that United Nations Organization authorities had indicated that the policies taken by Venezuela were adequate.

So far they seem to have had an effect since the official numbers of infections and deaths are still not too high compared to the world trend, but compliance with these preventive measures cannot be seen in isolation from the country’s situation before the virus, it has been key in complying with them. The contraction of the economy, of the consumption, the transportation crisis, the fuel crisis, the cash crisis, the electricity crisis, the fall in salaries, the health crisis … All of this contributes to the prevention of contagion because people before COVID-19 already had reduced their mobility (fuel, transport, and cash crisis), the health crisis and the fall in salaries has generated preventive awareness in the Venezuelans residing in the country who cannot afford to be sick.

Even when the virus makes that all efforts are aimed at containing infections and deaths, other aspects of life are still important, which over time can become extremely complex, such as the reproduction of material life: food and housing. ; and education, since confinement has forced the closure of educational institutions and there is no infrastructure to support Tele-education

Impact of COVID-19 on education

UNESCO

Although the educational issue is not the main concern of governments in the emergency that Coronavirus has brought with it, it is still important.

According to UNESCO data updated on April 7th, 2020, one of the mitigation measures adopted by almost all governments for the prevention of contagion has been the closure of educational institutions at all levels, only the United States, Australia and Vietnam have implemented localized closings, while in Russia they are on school vacations; The result is 1,574,021,818 students affected by these measures, which corresponds to 91.3% of the total number of students enrolled worldwide.

In South America, the figures amount to 112,554,287 affected. Faced with this situation of educational crisis, UNESCO’s suggestion has been (as they have been insisting since the beginning of the millennium) the use of Information and Communication Technologies as a tool that allows maintaining schooling from home. But it is well known that not all regions are prepared to take up schooling from home, so there are latent dangers in educational terms: the possibility that the poorest and most migrant students leave the educational system forever, the accentuation of inequalities in educational terms, the limitations of parents to teach from home, the increase in domestic violence, a high economic cost for the countries.

In 2013 UNESCO published a report with data collected in 2011 entitled Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education in Latin America and the Caribbean: a regional analysis of the integration of ICT and electronic preparation (Although it is not very recent, it is the most recent available by this institution), in this report different indicators are analyzed to assess the openness to the adoption of this type of technology for pedagogical purposes and the technical possibilities of each country and the region.

The report shows the political and normative disposition that exists in the countries of the entire region to integrate this type of technology in their educational systems, however, it seems that the efforts are diluted as concretion becomes necessary, that is, its greatest strength is in the abstraction of discourse and law, but at in operational level, great limitations remain.

Many countries in the region do not have electricity in a significant percentage of their primary, basic and diversified educational institutions; they do not have equipment that allows the incorporation of these technologies, they do not have an internet connection, they do not have training plans so that teachers can incorporate ICT into the educational system, except for the Caribbean countries that score better on these indicators and Uruguay, which is the example of the region in the policy of integrating ICTs in education with the plan El Ceibal, which has been proposed and has successfully provided a laptop with a free internet connection from the institution to all students of the public education system at its primary, basic and diversified levels, in fact, the El Ceibal plan is already generating alternatives to support the educational system during this Coronavirus contingency.

In Peru, remote classes began via radio and television with a daily frequency, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, attending all educational levels, and the Government also announced that access to the platform Aprendo en casa with available resources for homeschooling, it will not consume data on cell phones and the text messages that teachers use to communicate with their students will not be charged.

In Argentina, the Government has urged the population to use the platform. Seguimos educando where teachers, students, and family members will find digital resources to provide pedagogical support to education from home. But in other countries, such as Colombia, the great educational crisis has become evident, since the continuity of education from home is not viable; in Bolivia, they are rethinking the school calendar.

Venezuela and the educational contingency plan

In Venezuela the educational system has been detrimental as a result of the economic crisis, schooling rates at all levels have decreased significantly, currently, there are 6,866,822 students in initial, primary, basic and diversified education who are affected by the total closure of educational institutions, we know that life is the priority and that schools closure is to prevent the spread of the virus, but the collateral damage is big, because many of these students are, as a result of the economic crisis, in precarious life conditions that make them potentially vulnerable to abandon the education system forever.

There have been extra-official discourses about the possibility of continuing classes from home at different educational levels, even, the president has stated on a national television broadcast that the school year may end at home as a result of measures to prevent contagion, but the reality is that the country is not prepared for such a challenge.

According to government figures for the year 2016, 4,800,000 canaimitas had been distributed to both students and teachers, there are no data available on how the distribution has been; following the UNESCO report for 2010, more than 2 million laptops had been distributed within the Canaima Plan, prioritizing primary education; There is also no information on how the computer has been integrated into the educational system, this is key to the existence of a distance educational plan.

On the other hand, there are the technical limitations: many regions of the country continue to suffer continuous and prolonged electricity rations, others have a very low or no percentage of connectivity, and those who have access to the Internet must face the difficulties of slower connectivity in Latin America.

In this context, the Ministry of Education has launched “Cada familia una escuela” a television program broadcast by the state channel (which is characterized by having all its programming with a marked political and ideological bias) and which will be broadcast by others State channels and radio stations at different times, where teachers of different educational levels teach classes and give advice and instructions to parents who will be responsible during the contingency. This tv program designed in a very hasty way (the same March 16 was already on air) lasts just 45 minutes, which is equivalent to 1 academic hour, at this time it aims to condense content, instructions, and activities for all educational levels: initial, primary, basic, diversified, technical and special. Its scope is determined by the electrical service, by the existence of a television at home and by the willingness and ability of parents and/or representatives to guide activities and to maintain a constant communication flow with the respective teachers. There are no digital state platforms in which both teachers, students, and parents can find resources, guides, and pedagogical tools that help to face this challenge.

It is possible that, given the conditions, we are facing an unprecedented educational crisis in the country, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

UNESCO (2013). Tecnología de la información y la comunicación (TIC) en la educación en América Latina y el Caribe: un análisis regional de la integración de las TIC y la preparación electrónica. Disponible en http://uis.unesco.org/en/topic/information-and-communication-technologies-ict

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Crissia Contreras

Crissia Contreras. Cofounder and codirector at Revista Florencia. Communications Director at Laboratorio Estratégico and CEO at studioenllamas.com.ve. Sociology student at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) with an interest in political communication.

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