MEXICO CITY (AP) — Millions of Mexican school children returned to classes, but not schools, on Monday as the government attempted to start a new school year despite the challenges of the pandemic.
A system cobbling together online classes, instruction broadcast on television channels and radio programming in Indigenous languages is meant to keep students from missing out in a country already defined by deep inequalities.
As other countries around the world have already discovered, there is no perfect replacement for in-person classes.
Education Secretary Esteban Moctezuma noted Monday that other countries have opened their schools and seen outbreaks, while others have outright cancelled the school year.
“Maybe other countries don’t have the commitment of Mexican teachers,” he said Monday, speaking at President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s daily news conference. “Maybe other countries don’t have the heart like our mothers and fathers. Maybe our boys, girls and young people want to learn more than anyone in the world.”
The Mexican government enlisted the country’s largest private television companies to dedicate channels to school programming around the clock. Education officials developed schedules giving students at each level multiple opportunities to watch their classes.
Moctezuma said officials decided to rely on television because it has a far greater penetration that the internet. Still, questions abound about how families, especially those with multiple children, will juggle the classes along with jobs that could force both parents out of the home — often taking their children along with them.
More than half of Mexicans work in the informal economy, jobs that often don’t allow them to work from home.
There is a strong fear that the pandemic will spell the end of education for many students who will stop their studies. Many private schools have closed as cash-strapped parents stopped making tuition payments.
Manuel López Pereyra, a researcher in the education department of Mexico City’s Iberoamerican University, said the pandemic has revealed the shortcomings of Mexico’s education system, as it has in other countries.
“There’s an absence of effective education policies that can connect the needs of the teachers with those of the families, as well as the girls and boys,” he said. The interaction of a classroom environment isn’t replaced by online courses, much less passive viewing of television instruction.
“These educational programs must be accompanied by a teacher,” said López, who is studying the impact of pandemic on children’s learning. “They can’t be alone; they need a person, a pedgogy that allows the girls and boys to use the elements they learn on television.” He noted that many of the children’s parents or caregivers are not equipped to provide that support. “So we leave them there alone.”
Moctezuma said Monday that the education ministry had set up 160 phone lines for students seeking that support or extra tutoring. However, with some 30 million students, those resources would be stretched thin. He advised parents to maintain contact with their children’s teachers.