What do children think after a year out of school?
More than 15 months after the suspension of on-site classes, children, and adolescents from different parts of Ecuador tell how they feel about not going to school.
Ecuador - Friday, March 13, 2020, a little over a year ago, was the last time that classrooms welcomed the joy and presence of the more than 4.4 million children between the ages of 3 and 17 who are enrolled in the Ecuadorian education system.
Since then, most schools in the country have remained closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while shopping centers, entertainment venues, restaurants, bars, gyms, among others, have resumed activities.
Who are affected? Children, adolescents, and their families have suffered the main consequences of the closure, especially those who live in poverty, do not have internet access, have disabilities, are migrants or are women.
UNICEF advocates for children's voices to be heard and for their opinions to be taken into account regarding school closures and other decisions that affect their well-being.
We spoke with some children and parents from different areas and contexts in Ecuador, to learn about their experiences during this past year and to ask their opinions about the possibility of a voluntary return to classrooms.
Jeremy, 14 years old
Papayal Precinct, Tortuga Community, Esmeraldas Province
Jeremy, 14 years old, talks about his experience. "Before, when I went to school, I divided my time between studying and harvesting cocoa. Now I spend all day picking cocoa, and that's not easy," says the 14-year-old.
Not having internet access, Jeremy meets with his teacher every eight days to get his homework. In order to see her, he must walk and ride a horse for several hours.
When he was attending school, Jeremy's grandmother acquired a small house near the school so that he could study. With the suspension of on-site classes, they returned to the family's farm in the Tortuga Community in Esmeraldas Province, a remote place where he has no contact with anyone else. "I want to go back to school because I don't see my friends. The only house there is ours. No one else lives out there," Jeremy concludes.
Joselyn López, 19 years old.
Equinoccio, Putumayo – Sucumbios Province.
For Joselyn, studying at home during the pandemic has been a major challenge. The only way to have contact with her teachers is through her cell phone. "The teachers send us homework by WhatsApp but it’s difficult to understand what to do. When we attended classes at the school, we knew what to do, what the procedure was, everything was easier to understand. I would like to go back to school but applying all the safety measures."
Housework has also increased for Joselyn, now that she isn’t going to school, she spends more time doing housework, taking care of her three-month-old daughter and helping her husband with the cassava, plantain and sugar cane crops.
In Ecuador, 5.1% of girls and adolescents abandon their studies to attend to domestic tasks, and 4.8% due to teenage pregnancy, none of these causes occurs in the case of men (INEC, ENEMDU 2020).
Leani, 13 years old.
Partidero Precinct, Las Cumbres Community, Esmeraldas Province
In order to continue her schooling during the pandemic, Leani has to make a six-hour trek on horseback with her mother. "Sometimes the trip can take up to seven hours, everything depends on the weather. Sometimes we leave very early in the morning and sometimes we leave in the afternoon," she explains.
Leani is grateful to be able to meet with her teacher Carmen every eight days. The teenager is part of the Leveling and Acceleration Educational Program, a program aimed at children who have been out of school for more than two years. During the COVID-19 emergency, teachers from this program meet weekly with their students in order to monitor their learning.
"The good thing is that the teacher explains everything to me. She explains to me step by step how I should do my homework, but the bad thing is that I no longer have classmates to play with, to spend time with as I did before," says the young girl from Esmeraldas.
Sebastián, 11 11 years old.
Quito, Pichincha Province
Even though Sebastián lives in the city of Quito, where there is greater access to connectivity, he does not have internet, because his family is going through some hard times economically and can’t afford the cost. To receive classes, he has to go to one of the windows of his house to connect to a neighbor's network. On many occasions the internet does not work, and he cannot upload his homework to the platform, which has caused him some problems with his teacher.
"Studying at home has made it difficult for me in Math. I would like to learn more. At home, they only send me my homework and don't explain enough. On the other hand, at school, the teachers teach us and can put everything on the board. I really miss going to school," says Sebastian.
Gabarra de Cantagallo Community, Sansahuari Parish, Sucumbíos Province
As a single mother and head of household, Lidia assures that continuing her children's education during the pandemic has not been easy. Especially because she has to work every day and often cannot help her children with their homework.
"I'm not at home. Sometimes I don't even know what they are doing. I would like them to go back to school soon because I don't have the knowledge of the teachers for teaching them. At least here in the countryside, we haven't suffered from the pandemic and it doesn't hit us like in the cities," says Lidia.
Elisa, 8 years old.
Quito, Pichincha Province
Elisa lives in Quito and connects with her friends and teachers through a virtual platform. Although she has no connectivity problems, she does miss spending time with her friends and her teacher. "I would love to go back to school. The most important thing is to return safely, wearing a mask, keeping a distance of one-meter, washing our hands and using alcohol," says the 8-year-old girl.