Recovery Dialogues in Latin America 7: Reopening Schools

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The cities that participated in this seventh dialogue are Bogota (Colombia), Buenos Aires (Argentina) along with representants of two national governments: Costa Rica and Uruguay. This session was moderated and accompanied by an expert in the field, Bibiam Díaz, specialist in education and member of the coordination team for CAF’s educational agenda.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted all dimensions of development and well-being of countries of the region, including, of course, the right of children and teenagers to receive an education and comprehensive care for their personal development. It is estimated that the duration of school closure due to the pandemic has been significantly longer in Latin America than in other regions such as Europe, Africa and Asia, increasing negative effects on education in the region. Still, the issue has been prioritized at the political agenda through immediate responses to ensure the continuity of teaching, to mitigate learning loss and to secure that all students are able to access, not only learning material, but also all care and protection programs that are provided at schools. These adjustments to the school organization imply a very careful definition of criteria to carry out a progressive return of students to educational centers, while also designing specific curriculum and security protocols to respond to other relevant shocks and stresses of the region, such as emergencies due to extreme weather events. The main challenge will be to agree, as educational communities, on where to start.

The main challenges and opportunities identified during this session are the following:

Social

Low school attendance is already one of the main barriers for learning in Latin America and the Caribbean. The temporary closure of schools affects millions of students, particularly the ones from low-income neighborhoods who cannot have access to digital platforms and lack a safe and equitable environment for learning. This increases their risk of permanent dropout, which will have negative effects not only on their education, but also on their livelihood in general because of the positive externalities schools offer for youth, such as nutrition with school meals, security with extended school hours, extracurricular activities among others. In addition, inequality in access to educational opportunities through digital means increases the pre-existing gaps in access to information and knowledge and hinders socialization and inclusion in general. It is essential that policies aiming at promoting equal access to technology begin by recognizing the different dimensions that structure social inequalities in the region and intentionally work to reverse them. The key takeaways from the session include:

1. Ensure learning in appropriate and equitable conditions, recognizing the diversity of conditions between students;

2. Guarantee the health and safety of students, teachers and staff of the education system;

3. Provide comprehensive support for teachers and families with a focus on community trust and safety;

4. Provide psychological and socio-emotional attention for students;

5. Promote digital inclusion and the reduction of the technological gap;

6. Create learning communities and pedagogical support networks; 

7. Focus on vulnerable groups to create equal opportunities for all by accompanying and facilitating the re-engagement of vulnerable sectors.

For example, Buenos Aires, through the Program ‘Decí Presente’ seeks to strengthen school re-engagement in cases where the contact between the student and the school has been lost, as well as to ensure the continuity for those who maintained low attendance.

Institutional

There are multiple fronts to address in order to respond comprehensively to the educational challenges in the context of Covid-19.

For example, the necessary adjustments to school infrastructure to ensure physical distancing, the continuity of basic services such as access to water, sanitation and hygienic conditions in schools, technological infrastructure and connectivity conditions that facilitate the development of academic activities inside and outside of schools. But, perhaps, the greatest challenge is management adjustment, which relates to school organization, the improvement of curriculum and pedagogical transition. This should allow learning to be maintained in a context in which schools are closed or will remain partially closed for a few more months, as well as allow for the designing of strategies to return to in-person learning, gradually, even in scenarios where physical distancing will continue to be essential. The key takeaways from the session include:

1. Adapt curriculums, pedagogical education and methods for continuity; 

2. Prioritize content with an inclusive approach and a focus on rights; 

3. Lead the digital transformation; 

4. Use a combined educational model, including physical and digital learning methods; 

5. Design strategies for the return to in-person learning; 

6. Rethink and adapt evaluation and co-evaluation systems; 

7. Support and strengthen teaching work; 

8. Allow for flexibility in timing for reopening; 

9. Use technology as an ally to develop data and generate knowledge at the micro and macro level; 

10. Create measurable models and methods for educational policy that can be scaled.

For example, in Uruguay in 2007, the Plan Ceibal was created as a plan to support social inclusion and the promotion of equal opportunities for students at the Uruguayan educational system by improving technology and decreasing the digital divide. This implies providing public school children with their own computers and internet access, as well as providing programs, educational resources and teacher training to transform the educational methods.


[1] CAF (2020). Available at: https://www.caf.com/es/conocimiento/visiones/2020/10/el-largo-cierre-de-escuelas-en-america-latina/

* This content is the product of a series of dialogues organized by the Resilient Cities Network and CAF, through the Cities with a Future Initiative, to exchange knowledge and good practices among municipalities and key actors in the regional urban ecosystem of Latin American and the Caribbean, aimed at mitigating the effects of the pandemic.

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Recovery Dialogues in Latin America 7: Reopening Schools