COVID-19 Update: Our Latin American Education Partners
CoDevelopment Canada Report on Latin American teacher partners during the COVID-19 pandemic
Soon after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, governments in Latin America began to establish measures to inform and prevent its propagation, forced vacation on workers, suspended contracts and adjusted benefits won in previous years. Education authorities responded with indefinite school closures, instructed teachers to begin work from home and continue providing education services through a series of online platforms.
Programs like “Aprendo en Casa/ Learning at Home” mostly provide online resources for teachers and students in every education level; and on a smaller scale through national television, radio, and school booklets. This shift to virtual education has sharpened the already existing exclusion from education for many. Not all communities and teachers have access to internet or must do so through a mobile phone and limited data plans, others in the rural area don’t have electricity. Although teachers have demanded the closing of the digital gap in the past, they say the most pressing concern is the lack of running water for washing hands, students’ food insecurity and respect for labour rights during the pandemic. In certain municipalities where the job losses are being felt the most, communities are blocking traffic to demand food, and others believe it is better to die from hunger than coronavirus.
With the declaration of states of emergency and border closures, countries established strict curfews and fines; partner organizations moved to ensure special permits to travel to and from their schools, students’ homes in the rural area, and to specific government offices should they need to represent a member before their employers. They also demanded that education workers be provided the proper personal protection equipment, and a laptop per teacher.
Schools and union locals organized to prepare packages for students with learning materials, general information on symptoms of COVID-19 and how to prevent infection, as well as food hampers and local victim services contact information. There is a clear spike of reported cases of gender-based violence, as women and girls find themselves in quarantine with their aggressors. In the schools where the Non-Sexist and Inclusive Pedagogy program is active or where gender-equity processes within the union are taking place, student and parent guides include gender equity principles and NSIP teaching aids. Rural teachers are taking a non-tech approach to distance learning, by visiting students with school packages, checking in with parents and going over the continued learning plans.
A health crisis should not lead to another social crisis. The fear of becoming ill, of not being able to circulate freely even during “allowed hours”, of how teachers might be evaluated based on digital student products, is generating a great deal of stress, anxiety, agitation and disruption of mental health.
Without a doubt, women are the front line of defense, in healthcare, education and at home, women are in charge of preparing food, hygiene and care work, therefore the load of dealing with the current health crisis is affecting women and girls in particular. According to a 2014 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report1, 68.5% of teachers in secondary and 78% of teachers at the elementary levels in region are women. Many are heads of their households and have added these new tasks to their regular unpaid domestic and care work.
Under these conditions, partners are discussing the current health and social crisis using a class struggle analysis. Forums and pedagogical meetings center on how to provide students with educational tools needed to address local and global issues. Indigenous educators are also present by expressing that colonization needs to be challenged in the educational contents and methodologies through the promotion of indigenous education for taking care of one another and of Mother Earth, in tune with the principles of “Buen Vivir/ Living Well”.
Partner immediate actions
In Peru, SUTEP (Peruvian Education Workers’ Union) and its Women’s Secretariat is providing online professional development opportunities for members, including tutorials on how to work with the online mechanisms. Virtual seminars focus on gender-sensitive approach to education, critical use of technologies of information and communication, and labour rights during the pandemic. They are strengthening their community engagement, demanding increased funding for public education and presenting proposals for new class size. They are also demanding tablets and free of cost internet for teachers and students in urban and rural areas alike. By the end of April 2020, 9 teachers had died of COVID-19.
In Veracruz, Mexico, the Totlahtol Yoltok Teacher’s Collective is organizing healing ceremonies with communities, holding “long memory” town halls with elders on how indigenous communities have survived pandemics in the past. They are taking the classroom into the communal territory and starting to hold small group sessions with students to practice Nahuatl vocabulary in different settings, for example; going to the local market, making home recipes, trading of diverse crops and goods, promoting the values behind traditional agriculture, “Living Well” and raising awareness on gender-based violence.
In Colombia, FECODE (Colombian Teachers’ Federation) created a Humanity Fund in order to provide medical services for members in need. They have created an online space for sharing alternative educational materials and professional development for teachers. Virtual seminars include presentations on education financing, fitness training, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous cultures, mental health in times of COVID-19 and others. FECODE is also working with rural and indigenous teachers to promote alternative education opportunities. Teachers are demanding increased spending for public education, respect for the teaching profession and a stop to the killing of social leaders and unionists. On April 27, head teacher Jairo de Jesus Jimenez Isaza was assassinated in the department of Antioquia.
In Honduras, COPEMH (Honduran High School Teachers’ College) and PRICPHMA (First Professional College of Honduran Teachers) are strengthening their engagement with local communities by supporting organizational efforts made by community groups to provide food and shelter to those who lost their jobs and migrant or deported communities, distributing alternative and non-sexist educational materials to students and accompanying parents in distance learning.
In Costa Rica, SEC (Costa Rican Education Workers’ Union) and its Women’s Secretariat have increased the services provided by their Cooperative to provide emergency medical services and up to 50% discounts on food hampers and deliveries to members and the public in general. They are also demanding that education authorities provide laptops and free of cost internet to all teachers and students. Some teachers are creating crafts with students to thank healthcare, sanitation and food chain workers in public spaces. Others are focusing on enhancing social and emotional aspects of their pedagogical mediation.
In El Salvador, ANDES 21 de Junio (National Association of Salvadoran Educators) and the Women’s Secretariat created a space for providing education workers with 24/7 basic medical attention and permanent delivery of medicines for members with chronic illnesses. They also bargained to ensure active members and contract teachers be covered by the ISBM (Salvadoran Teachers’ Welfare Institute, and ensure that the national hospital network provides services to all education workers in case of emergency. The ISBM also committed to providing teachers with one million masks and alcohol-based gel to be distributed in the following weeks.
Situation of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Latin America (May 4, 2020):
1 Cristian Cox, “Situation of teachers in Latin America”, Regional Strategy for Latin America and the Caribbean Report, UNESCO-ORLEAC, Santiago 2014.