Few global events ever impact every country simultaneously as COVID-19 has. Besides its devastating consequences for the health and finances of millions of people around the world, the pandemic also disrupted their education. How have schools in our partner communities been affected? How have they’ve been able to cope with the challenges, and what does post-pandemic education look like for them? Peru Country Manager Daniel Salazar reviews the status of programs where volunteers teach as part of service projects.
The Ecuadorian Ministry of Education recently announced that schools will progressively reopen starting in mid-August. They have been closed since March 12 in response to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the country. The Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion (MIES), which oversees the two early childhood development centers (CDIs in Spanish) in Global Volunteers’ partner community of Calderón followed suit right away. Since then, CDIs teachers have been carrying out teletrabajo or “telework”, that is, work from home. But of course, this has been challenging in light of the unreliable or lack of internet connections in the country. Teachers struggle everyday with their internet connection, and hope that the children’s works as well.
Still, teachers at the CDIs have given their best. They have met with the children during the week and given them “assignments” or daily activities to continue learning at home. These have been greatly appreciated by the parents because, as you can imagine, the little ones have a particularly tough time sitting idle at home for long periods of time. Through these assignments, the children have learned topics such as occupations, family members, motor skills, and done other more active activities such as walking up and down stairs and jumping in and out of shapes lined out on the floor. Our partners say that students at FUNDAC’s centers Number One and Number Two will greatly benefit from the added assistance volunteers will offer teachers once Global Volunteers’ are able to return to Calderón.
In China, schools started opening as early as April when many countries were fighting the worst of the pandemic. By the end of May, most schools in China were functioning normally, albeit with strict disinfection protocols and other safety measures. This was the case in Xi’an, where the secondary school and the university where Global Volunteers works are located. Classes for grades four to six started in April, and by May 11 all classes had resumed. Unfortunately, in mid-June all schools were closed in Bejing after a new outbreak. As the virus seems to be contained in Xi’an now, classes aren’t expected to be cancelled again.
Although no cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in the Cook Islands, schools were closed in mid-March as a preventive measure. Country Manager James Puati was able to deliver volunteers’ donations of school stationary before schools closed. Parents and schools actively pursued home-schooling options amid the COVID-19 crisis, so those donations were gratefully received. Thankfully, the country was able to stay healthy, and on April 18 the Prime Minister Henry Puna announced that the country was free of COVID-19. This allowed schools to reopen on April 20. However, to protect residents, Americans and others from the Northern Hemisphere aren’t allowed into the country now, and may be prohibited from entry throughout the rest of 2020.
Classes resumed with new safety protocols in Greece on May 18, as students returned from a scheduled six-week break, extended due to COVID-19. Greece Country Manager Sam Pinakoulaki reports that schools accommodated fifteen pupils per class and only one student per desk. The four usual recess periods were reduced to two. Also, many parents opted to keep their children home, and they continued online classes until the school year ended last month. As of today, the government hasn’t announced what will happen in September or when the schools will actually open. One thing is known, however. The children in our partner community are anxious to work with volunteers as soon as it’s safe to travel, so they can catch up on their English studies.
As the pandemic hit the island, the Cuban government closed all schools on March 24; the first time the socialist regime took this action in over 60 years in power. Unlike in other Latin American countries where online classes were provided through private or public schools, Cuba affords only one percent of homes access to internet. However, through the government-controlled TV channels, educational programming quickly replaced school classes. Two public channels were dedicated to teach all kinds of subjects, from biology and math to art, training for college admission exams, and even sports.
In-person classes are expected to resume in September. Administrators are currently working to provide the minimum hygiene standards necessary for the safety of the children, such as ensuring running water, soap, and functional sinks and toilets. Although this is a difficult task in many Latin American countries, this level of reliability and convenience is particularly challenging in Cuba, given the pervasive poverty throughout the country. Our host, Eduardo Gonzales, is eager to welcome volunteers back so our conversational English program can resume.
Since May, many public activities have resumed, and the next school year is expected to start on September 14 as scheduled. It has been a long break from school for Italian students. After it was clear that the country would be one of Europe’s hardest hit, the Italian government closed all schools on March 4, even before declaring a nationwide lockdown. Initially, Education Minister Lucia Azzolina said schools and universities would be closed until March 15. By that time, Global Volunteers’ new host country of Sicily had a few cases of COVID-19, and it became clear it was already too late to prevent widespread infection. Fortunately, Sicily didn’t suffer in the way the mainland did, and there has consistently been a lower diffusion of contagion in on the island than in the rest of the country.
Early in March, in a rare scene, legions of parents in Nepal demanded that schools close. But the government resisted. Finally, the pressure mounted, and the government relented on March 19. The switch to online classes and other media was stilted, as many students and staff are not equipped with reliable internet. Our community partners in Kathmandu tell us that some schools were able to distribute textbooks to the students so they could study from home. Also a few classes are broadcast on TV for the children to watch and study. Unfortunately, since early May, Nepal has only seen the number of COVID-19 cases increase. At the time of this post, the lockdown has been extended till July 22, and no decision has been made about re-opening the schools for the next school year. When our programs resume in Kathmandu, all the students we serve – from preschool through adult business school – will require the help of volunteers to get back on track with their English studies.
On Mar 27, New Mexico State officials announced that all public schools would be closed for the rest of the school year. By mid-June, the NM education department proposed a hybrid learning model (online and regular classes) for the 2020-2021 school year. They will also require all staff to be screened for COVID-19 daily, while students are encouraged to be screened. By late June, Governor Lujan Grisham announced plans to open schools in August provided social distancing and mask wearing continues. Despite rising number of COVID-19 cases at the beginning of July, no updates have been made to this plan.
The Peruvian school year starts in March and ends in December with a two-week break in July. The pandemic delayed the start of classes in public schools at the beginning of the academic year, but by April 2020, online classes were instituted. This is expected to continue until March 2021, including for our community partner La Molina Agrarian University. Although in-person classes will not resume until the next academic year, the government has allowed a few schools in remote areas with no access to internet or TV signal and no cases of COVID-19, to resume regular classes in July.
Most students and staff at public schools are suffering greatly because they lack a reliable internet connection or the necessary device to attend school virtually. This is the case at Sagrada Familia, Global Volunteers’ Peruvian partner, where only 40 computers serve 240 resident children. So the children have been taking turns to use them while teachers work in groups with a projector attached to a single computer. Outside the Sagrada Familia campus, many of the more than 1,000 non-resident students do not have internet at home or an available computer, and therefore are running far behind in their studies. When our program resumes in Peru, these children will need significant help to catch up with their education.
Even for those with access to a device with internet connection it has been difficult to follow online classes. Public schools had no previous experience with online classes, neither did the children. So online classes have been supplemented with educational programs on public TV channels and radio stations.
In Poland, schools remained closed and classes were conducted online through the end of the school year on June 26. Although students were contacted daily, many students had difficulties keeping up with lessons, as internet connections in rural areas, where our partner communities are located, are spotty. It’s expected that some students will require remedial classes to catch up on English studies. In early July, the Minister of Education announced that regular school classes will commence as scheduled on September 1. It’s not yet known if Americans will be allowed into Europe at that time so Global Volunteers conversational English classes can resume.
St. Lucia started opening its schools on June 3 and is slowly resuming a normal schedule. This was after schools closed on March 14 and went onliuune through radio, television, and the internet. However, most students did not have the devices needed to attend class online. Flavian Isembert, the Principal of Anse la Raye Primary School, explained: “In some cases there is a 100% participation, but the challenge is the lack of devices. Some teachers are also finding it difficult to work solely from a phone, and the Zoom connections don’t always allow for a full session.”
Looking ahead, he said both devices and volunteers will be necessary so students can catch up: “Come September, each child will need a device, the lab will need computers, and also each classroom needs a television. Typing classes and introduction to the computer will become a must as a subject.” Our community partners are eager for Global Volunteers to return once international travel is safe to help students make up for the time lost in classes.
On March 17, the Tanzanian government shut down all nursery, primary and secondary schools in the country. On June 29, schools opened again. When Tanzania Country Manager Winfrida Mshindo met with the school headmasters of the Ukwega Ward, she was told students and teacher will have to work harder to compensate for all the days that students were not in session. Teacher Chumbulila, vice-headmaster of a primary school, told us: “We have opened the schools, but we are trying as much as we can to protect our children. We have bought buckets and soap so students can wash their hands, and we are also grateful to Global Volunteers who helped us to build the hand-washing stations, essential to protect students’ health. Along with all those efforts to keep them healthy, we as teachers are working hard to make sure we finish the syllabus before the end of school year.”
An earlier post explained Vietnam closed all schools for the Lunar New Year on January 25 – only two days after the first case was confirmed. More than three months later, and with fewer than 300 cases and no deaths in a 100-million-people nation, schools finally reopened on May 11. After ensuring they were wearing their masks properly and checking their temperatures, Vietnamese children were some of the first students in the world to return to school classes. Universities started going back to normal in June, including the Foreign Trade University, where Global Volunteers teaches English. Ms. Ha Dao, from the Department of International Affairs at the university, told us: “It would be nice if we can receive volunteers to help our students with their English skills after long online courses.” We look forward to mobilizing volunteers to support students in Hanoi and around the world.
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