On August 26, 2020, more than 100 people across North and South America participated in the webinar entitled: Opening our Schools for All Children: Covid-19, Equity and Educational Policy in Latin America. This is the third in a series of webinars organized by Equity for Children and the Arcor Foundation that address the international health calamity of Covid-19, which forced a first ever shutdown of in-person classes throughout Latin America. This webinar highlighted the importance of children’s needs on the international policy agenda, including for many whose vulnerability has increased during the pandemic. The event, which was streamed on YouTube, can be accessed here. Information on webinars one and two can be viewed here and here.
Panel participants Leonardo Garnier (ex-minister of education of Costa Rica), Silvina Gvirtz (Secretary of Science, Technology, and Educational Policy in the La Matanza municipality, Argentina), and Francisco Miranda López (Diagnostic Evaluation Unit MEJOREDU, Mexico) discussed:
- How do schools ensure equal educational access for all using the hybrid model, which combines remote and in-person learning?
- What special programs will counteract the catastrophic impact of school closings on children and adolescents, including loss of vital social interaction, absence of food programs for the most vulnerable and limited access to technology for some learners?
- What opportunities for positive change have emerged since the start of Covid-19 and how can they be utilized to create new, better educational opportunities for all?
- During the mad scramble to adapt to remote education, technological resources were employed with varying degrees of success. Today we can identify remote education’s limitations: A gap in access to technology among students of different socioeconomic backgrounds; An absence of programs geared towards the needs of indigenous populations and disabled children; A lack of space in homes for proper studying; Difficulties faced by parents who must accompany their children’s educational trajectory.
- The greatest risk now is a complete withdrawal from school by a significant portion of students. The suspension of classes has had an uneven effect on the educational process, with vulnerable students experiencing the most injury to their learning from remote education.
- It is necessary to implement policies that prioritize technological inclusion. These policies include guaranteed connectivity, the distribution of necessary devices among students and a way to source free data from certain educational websites. Technology can be a successful educational tool but it must be accompanied by elements such as proactive teacher training programs and adequate levels of connectivity within the family home. The benefits of using technology alongside traditional study materials, such as printed books, highlights a disparity. Books can be easily distributed but are static. Technology permits real-time updating and interaction, but equal distribution among students is an aspiration rather than a current reality.
- It is imperative that the curriculum is revised for the 2020-2021 school year to elevate instruction of reading comprehension and writing, as well as scientific mathematical and digital literacy. Superfluous homework assignments that contribute to student overwork and stress should be carefully eliminated.
- A hybrid educational model must be flexible and differentiated to address diverse populations. Delivery of educational instruction should be customized as much as possible to reflect all constituents in a school.
- The challenge will be to take advantage of, and share, resources and information that have been developed during this time not only to mitigate the effects of the pandemic but also to reduce the educational inequalities the pandemic has heightened.
- Cooperation among governments will be essential. School must be planned not only as an educational center but to fortify the social and community centers that are an important function. This will help reduce the inequity that exists in children’s access to education, food and health.
Alberto Minujin, Equity for Children’s Director, emphasized the need for conversation among diverse Latin American countries and regions to design and sustain inclusive policies that are child-centered.
Javier Rodriguez, Social Change Coordinator of the ARCOR Foundation Argentina, and moderator of the event reaffirmed the need to focus the hybrid system of education on equity in access, stability, and learning achievement for all students.