Education and covid-19: lessons learned
The report “ Education in times of the covid-19 pandemic ” – seeks to make visible the consequences of the measure of closing schools in the short and medium terms, as well as to propose some ways to overcome the challenges that school confinement has imposed. Given the relevance of this report, I propose to summarize its content and refer to the case of Mexico, insofar as the little information available allows it.
For now, we have the information provided by the survey on educational experiences (the survey, from now on), carried out by the National Commission for Continuous Improvement of Education (Mejoredu). It should be borne in mind that this survey was conducted via the Internet and that 194,000 teachers, students and directors of basic education answered it —although there is also a version for upper secondary education—, as well as mothers and fathers and tutors. Since the surveyed population self-selected, their results are not representative of the national educational system. However, we can assume that this information helps us identify educational trends of what has happened recently in the Mexican school sector.
Measures during the pandemic.In order to prevent the spread of the virus, face-to-face activities in schools were closed globally, affecting 1.2 billion students; 160 million of them belong to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. All the countries in the region implemented various measures to continue student learning: some did not close their classrooms (Nicaragua), while others opened them promptly (Uruguay); the vast majority used virtual platforms, and about half used the mass media of radio and television. For this, some gave electronic devices to their students, others to their schools, while some more offered soft credits to teachers and parents for their acquisition. Mexico closed its schools since March, and implemented the Learn at Home program (I, II and III), which is based on two major actions: 1) broadcasting curricular content mainly through television, and 2) using the internet for teachers to interact with their students, distribute digital materials and organize various pedagogical activities. The results of the survey indicate that about 95% of the primary and secondary school students who participated in this opinion exercise continued their studies at a distance, but the proportion of those who did not do so is unknown.
Illustration: David Peón
Continuity of learning.The distance modality forced the countries to redefine school calendars and hours, the implementation of the curriculum, and communication between teaching staff. An important issue was the redefinition of curricular content for the acquisition of non-cognitive skills, such as social-emotional skills, self-learning, health care and collaborative work. Although it is still impossible to specify the impact that confinement has had on learning, a general decrease in school achievement and an increase in learning gaps are expected due to pre-existing educational inequalities, the low coverage of the distance modality, and the socioeconomic differences of the families. Anecdotally, it is known that the implementation of the Learn at Home program was difficult, for both teachers and students. In this sense, the results of the survey indicate that 95% of primary school students and 75% of secondary school students sought help from their relatives to be able to carry out their activities at a distance. Likewise, it is reported that 3 out of 4 teachers had to look for didactic alternatives to implement their online courses. On the other hand, it is unknown whether there are national teacher training programs on teaching non-cognitive skills. It is reported that 3 out of 4 teachers had to look for didactic alternatives to implement their online courses. On the other hand, it is unknown whether there are national teacher training programs on teaching non-cognitive skills. It is reported that 3 out of 4 teachers had to look for didactic alternatives to implement their online courses. On the other hand, it is unknown whether there are national teacher training programs on teaching non-cognitive skills.
Preparation of countries for distance education. With the use of the internet and different communication tools it has been possible that some school processes have reached a good number of students. However, the countries of the region are unequally prepared with respect to the digital resources necessary to face this educational crisis. According to a 2019 ECLAC report , in fourteen countries, 4 out of 10 households in urban areas had internet access, which contrasts with 14% of those living in rural areas. Similarly, the 2018 PISA study reports that in the region only 6 out of 10 female and male 15-year-olds had access to a computer with internet at home, while only a third hadeducational software . In the region, 2 out of 10 students from the lowest socioeconomic quartile have access to the internet, while in the highest quartile the ratio is 8 out of 10. The survey indicates that, during the pandemic, only one third of primary and secondary school students half of high school has had a computer at home to do their homework. It is also reported that half of the teachers used materials not available in the homes of some students; while another half said that online activities and television and radio programs were boring for school children.
Adaptation of evaluation processes.A central aspect of the educational process is the evaluation of learning that allows knowing the educational progress of each school to take pertinent pedagogical actions. The information generated by the evaluation allows the teaching staff to provide feedback to each student. The distance education model has shown the difficulty of evaluating students in a timely and effective manner, certifying their learning and promoting them from one grade to another. Due to the difficulty in evaluating students validly, reliably and fairly, some countries – like ours – have chosen to cancel formal evaluations, apply alternative evaluations (portfolios and opinion of parents), avoid grade repetition and attend learning lag when returning to face-to-face classes. In the case of Mexico, the survey indicates that 57% of teachers had difficulties providing feedback to students; A problem that was reported by 2 out of 3 teachers of indigenous elementary schools and telesecundarias.
Need for support for teachers and managers.The teaching staff has had to respond to demands that distance education imposes for which they were not prepared, such as re-planning and adapting online educational processes, as well as providing socio-emotional support to students and parents. The teaching work has been carried out with insufficient availability of technological resources and with the support of virtual platforms and methodologies with which they were not familiar. Educational inequalities have also emerged in this area. Thus, in Latin America and the Caribbean, private school teachers have used virtual classes and educational videos more frequently than public school teachers. On the other hand, Distance education has involved a significant increase in the work time that teaching staff must allocate to prepare their classes, ensure an internet connection and monitor their students’ learning in various ways. Inequality reappears in this area. In Mexico, on average, 85% of teachers carry out distance education activities, but in the poorest regions of the country only 64% do so. In this sense, the results of the survey indicate that around 7 out of 10 teachers spent more on telephony, electricity and internet, while 56% of the parents had higher expenses on photocopies and 64% on teaching materials. Likewise, between 71 and 87% of teachers reported having increased working time. Something similar happened with the students: between 52 and 83% reported having spent more time on some school activities. Likewise, 6 out of 10 parents stated that it was difficult or very difficult to combine their household activities with accompanying their daughters and sons.
Psychological and socio-emotional impact on the educational community. According to ECLAC / UNICEF, an important part of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean lives in restricted housing conditions (about 80 million), or in severely precarious conditions (18 million). Thus, for many schoolchildren, the confinement measure has represented having to live in crowded conditions for long periods of time, which has negatively affected them in two ways. First, it prevents studying and resting in a suitable place, which affects cognitive development. Second, it exposes girls, boys and young people to situations of domestic violence and abuse. In this context, socio-emotional learning is a very valuable tool to mitigate the harmful effects of the social and health crisis. Therefore, in some countries, such as Chile, Guidelines have been developed for teaching staff to promote self-care and the social-emotional well-being of students. The still Mexican Secretary of Education, Esteban Moctezuma, has announced that the teachers will attend to the students’ socio-emotional problems when they return to class; however, it is not known if a budget is allocated for teachers to be trained and if there is a contingency plan for returning to classes.
Prioritization of vulnerable groups. Confinement conditions and the lack of opportunity to learn at home have weakened the link between the most vulnerable populations and the education sector, which will increase dropout and dropout rates. This situation puts the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals at risk., which seek to guarantee an inclusive, equitable and quality education throughout life for all. This could be achieved if the various forms of educational exclusion and marginalization are overcome and if inequities in access, participation and learning outcomes are eliminated. In the context of the pandemic, it is necessary to prioritize the most disadvantaged groups to prevent further deepening of social inequalities. The case of girls and adolescents deserves special attention; under conditions of confinement, their workload at home is exacerbated by assuming multiple responsibilities, such as professional work at a distance, caring for family members, supervising the learning processes of children or siblings, and domestic work. In Mexico, a significant reduction in enrollment is estimated, This is consistent with the survey results, which indicate that 86% of students planned to return to class, 10% did not know if they would, and 2.5% did not intend to. On the other hand, 80% of the parents indicated that their children would return to classes, 17% that they did not know it and 4% that they would not return.
The document ends with a series of recommendations for educational systems, based on the experiences learned, among which the following stand out: promoting equity and inclusion; improve curricular content; train teachers for distance education and back to school; socio-emotionally support students and families; encourage resilience at all levels of the education system; work interdisciplinary with the health sectors, and generate alliances with different sectors of society, students and teachers. Although all these recommendations are desirable, their correct implementation requires that there be reliable information on each of these aspects that in Mexico, unfortunately, does not exist. It is encouraging that Mejoredu anticipates a series of research papers aimed at documenting the national experience during the covid-19 contingency; It will be essential to guide decisions to improve the national education system. An important aspect to consider is the challenge of preserving the employment, wages, benefits and well-being of the teaching staff. Uninterrupted engagement with teaching staff to ensure their return to school will be a critical factor in ensuring that schoolchildren do as well. This will be one of the great challenges that the new education secretary, Defina Gómez, will face very soon. An important aspect to consider is the challenge of preserving the employment, wages, benefits and well-being of the teaching staff. Uninterrupted engagement with teaching staff to ensure their return to school will be a critical factor in ensuring that schoolchildren do as well. This will be one of the great challenges that the new education secretary, Defina Gómez, will face very soon. An important aspect to consider is the challenge of preserving the employment, wages, benefits and well-being of the teaching staff. Uninterrupted engagement with teaching staff to ensure their return to school will be a critical factor in ensuring that schoolchildren do as well. This will be one of the great challenges that the new education secretary, Defina Gómez, will face very soon.