Hoping to get back to the classrooms

Education in emergencies

UNICEF Guatemala
NIños viendo televisión
11 June 2020

At midmorning, entering the house of 27-year-old Lesli Leonardo Martínez, in Zone 5 of Guatemala City, is like jumping inside a kindergarten. The room is occupied by four children, three of them are her children and one is her niece. At 11 in the morning they have already been two hours in front of the television. They scream, run and laugh a lot, it is a real surprise to see that a cartoon is not being transmitted on the screen; they are in class, first Mathematics and then Communication and Language.

This is the daily life of the almost 2.5 million Guatemalan elementary and pre-primary students after classes were suspended since March 15th due to the global emergency of the Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.

Cristian, 10 years old, is in fourth grade primary school. His class is over, but he stays with his sisters to accompany them as they watch their grade programs, second grade, and kinder. Her mother comments: “They love it, the shows are very entertaining. They interact a lot with the teachers on TV. The oldest of my children helps me a lot with the youngest ones, he follows their classes and guides them. They all learn together”, she says.

Niña desinfectando los zapatos de su madre.

Her mother has just returned home after going to school, where she has collected the food bag that replaces the school meal and the learning guides offered by the Ministry of Education. At the end of the education program on TV for his grade, Cristian approaches his mother, curious to see what she brings. Lesli immediately shows him all the educational material that she brings and Cristian's eyes light up.

Madre e hijo estudiando en casa.

"The television programs are very nice, but I also miss school," says Cristian, without taking his eyes off the sheets. “I talk on the phone with some of my friends, but I want to be with them, play ball at recess. I also miss the teachers and the classes that are missing on TV, such as science, English and art.”

Myrna Patricia Orellana, 60, the school Director for the La Paz School Complex No. 2 "JUNE 25" in zone 5, where Cristian studies, is aware that television programs are a contribution, but they are not enough and for this reason, since the start of class suspensions, she has regularly provided parents with a lot of supplementary teaching material. "WhatsApp is essential to be able to reach all the children, through their parents" says Myrna. “I am also a teacher and I have been using this resource for two years, which now has an even more important role. Some don't have access to smartphones, so we call them at school every 2-3 weeks.”

To guarantee educational continuity in the country, UNICEF has supported the Ministry of Education by producing various teaching materials and distributing them through various media: educational programs that are broadcast on television by Government Channel and Channel 13. So far there has been 265 sessions recorded, and they have been on air during 30 days; 570 hours have been broadcast through TGW radios, stations of the Ministry of Education, the Guatemalan Federation of Radio Schools -FGER-, the Guatemalan Institute of Radio Education -IGER-, and there has been 27 integrated printed publications in the main written media in the country.

The situation is similar in rural areas and is confirmed by 30 years old Delmi Judith Muralles Rodriguez. She is the mother of four children, and she is also the President of the Organization of Family Parents (OPF) of Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta (EORM) No. 77 in the Los Mixcos village of Palencia, almost 35 kilometers northeast of the Guatemala city.

Salón de clases vacío.

“There are fewer people here with internet access, but we all know each other, and it is easy to spread the word and deliver the printed material”, she affirms while her children do the math tasks. She adds “As president of the OPF I also recognize a positive side in this situation, parents are much more collaborative than in other circumstances. They understand the gravity of the moment and know that if we work together it will benefit our children.” 

The emergency is uniting families and there are signs of solidarity in the community.

Thanks to UNICEF´s support and the Organizations of Family Parents, it has been possible to deliver bags of food to families, replacing the meals received by students in schools so that children and adolescents could continue receiving this food in their home.

Delmi's daughter, Melany, 8, is in third grade of primary school and tells how her mother organized her days, maintaining the same schedule routine that they managed at school: “We woke up early, after breakfast we take classes on TV and then we do our homework. With WhatsApp, my brother and I communicate with our classmates and discuss classes and homework."

Dos hermanos hacen sus tareas escolares en su casa, en El Potrero, Villa Grande, Palencia, Guatemala.

Delmi's mission is to keep them busy, “But not only with school obligations," he says, "obviously they need to play and from time to time I give them permission to go to the store," says her mother.

The greatest challenge for all, institutions, teachers and parents, is to be able to maintain the good mental health of the little ones and also guarantee the continuity of their learning.

Niños estudiando afuera de su casa.

“Girls, boys and young people have the right to continue learning, play and have fun during this time at home. They have the right to be respected and treated with affection, to express their feelings and to receive the support of their parents." warns Ileana Cofiño, Education Specialist at UNICEF Guatemala. “These are times to demonstrate your responsibility by learning differently, but especially, it is time to remember that by staying home, you contribute to the well-being of others.”  she says.