Education

The Inter-American Dialogue’s Education Program aims to improve the quality of learning and skills development across Latin America. We do so by partnering with public and private organizations throughout the hemisphere to promote informed debate on education policy, identify and disseminate best practices, and monitor progress toward improvement. Our cutting-edge analysis of education policy and broad network of policymakers, education experts, business leaders, academics, and journalists have made it the strongest private voice on education in the region.


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In early March, Latin America was forced to close public spaces due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Most countries shut down borders and asked their inhabitants to work from home, prompting a wave of remote work. Additionally, schools had to close their doors and begin the transition to distance learning. This situation revealed greater connectivity deficiencies than expected in many countries in the region. The challenge of staying connected during a pandemic disproportionately affects populations with limited financial resources and those in remote areas.

Since then, there has been a great effort by both the public and private sectors to alleviate the obstacles presented by distance learning and remote work. Telecommunications companies have played a key role in expanding access to connectivity and digital educational resources. New initiatives to address these challenges have been implemented throughout Latin America. Some telephone companies have improved the quality of their services at no additional cost to their customers and others have formed partnerships with the region's ministries of education to launch platforms that do not require a stable internet connection. Below, we present some of the responses implemented by telecommunication companies in the region to address connectivity problems in order to support all household needs whether they be educational or work-related.

Several telecommunications companies have strategically adapted their services to reduce costs or offer access to educational resources. Many, including Claro, Movistar, AT&T, DirecTV, Tigo y Antel, have sought to adapt their services to the needs generated by the crisis. In Colombia, both the public and private sectors have continually strived to provide a network of educational services that are accessible even to students with limited resources. In this particular case, certain educational platforms such as Colombia Aprende can be accessed without internet connection. Alongside these efforts, at the outset of the pandemic, Claro foresaw a spike in the use of its services that in turn would slow down connectivity. Therefore, the company announced that its prepaid and postpaid customers would have access to more data and minutes in all available packages automatically and for free. Although these services were only proposed for a limited time, as the pandemic continues to develop, they have continued to remain in place. For example, with respect to home services, Claro has increased the speed of internet connection by 50 percent to facilitate work and academic activities.

Today, Claro continues to offer high-speed services thanks to its investments in higher frequency bands such as the 2.5 GHz band, to increase the speed and downloadability of its mobile internet at no additional cost. Strengthening telecommunications and connectivity services has been crucial in enabling different users to participate in simultaneous video calls from the same home, particularly in the case of caregivers who must telework while their children attend online classes.

Another company that has stood out for its services during the pandemic is Movistar. In Chile, the company increased fiber-optic speed and home services up to 100 percent, reducing consumption restrictions to support telework and school work dynamics. Movistar also changed their data policy on social networks like Whatsapp and Twitter, so that students and teachers who do not have access to alternative communication platforms can interact without depleting their mobile data plan. This is extremely beneficial since recent surveys show that teachers in the region use social media networks like WhatsApp as a primary means of communication with their students. Many governments in the region also use WhatsApp to distribute educational guides and resources to teachers.

While many companies are focusing their efforts on increasing coverage or broad band speed, other companies like Movistar, A&T, DirecTV, and Tigo have expanded their educational services as well. Movistar has launched free learning platforms such as STEMbyme, ProFuturo, and #ConectaEmpleo. AT&T has offered access to the platform Escuela Plus alongside DirecTV which also has expanded their educational channel selections for cable plans that originally did not have access to Disney, National Geographic, Discovery, Torneos y Takeoff Media. DirecTV’s initiative has been implemented in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru y Uruguay. In addition, the company Tigo has focused its efforts on training teachers on the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) so that they can better utilize the platforms available to them through the initiative Conéctate Segur@.

In Uruguay where there was already a high connectivity rate, the state-owned company Antel developed a massive outreach strategy to respond to the needs during the pandemic. The company first gave away a five-gigabyte bonus at the beginning of the shutdown so that people could "access the distance learning programs that are being implemented." Its various initiatives include the Plan Universal Hogares and the Ibirapitá Plan with 50 gigabytes each. Antel also has gone a step further and is providing 40 gigabytes per month free of charge during the months of May, June, and July to all teachers affiliated with the ANEP teacher plan in order to support the development of teleducation. Apart from ensuring that Uruguayans are connected to the internet, Antel, along with the Bank of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay (BROU), facilitated the delivery of emergency food baskets through their mobile application. In the first week of operation, more than 30,000 beneficiaries were able to receive food and other critical resources from the Ministry of Social Development. Thanks to the collaboration between Antel and the Ministry of Social Development, it was possible to manage these services completely remotely.

Collaborations between ministries and telephone companies have been crucial to closing the connectivity gap during the pandemic. Like the collaboration between Antel and the Ministry of Social Development, telecommunications companies across the region have expanded their work to facilitate the services governments want to provide. In Argentina, for example, the Ministry of Education, along with the president of the National Communications Agency (ENACOM), announced that the three mobile phone companies Movistar, Claro and Personal will allow free access to the educational platforms and virtual classrooms at more than 57 national universities. This agreement allows for the democratization of access to resources and classes that in-person students have previously not had access to at home. In addition to releasing data from these websites, the distance learning platform, Seguimos Educando, was launched to access a free collection of virtual educational materials and resources organized by subject and grade.

The Chilean platform AprendoEnLínea, which provides educational resources for all grades, offers free access thanks to mobile phone companies, Entel, Claro, GTD, Movistar, and VTR, grouped into the Mobile Telephone Association (ATELMO). Similarly in the Dominican Republic, Claro signed an agreement with the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology (MESCYT), the Dominican Association of Universities (ADOU) and the Dominican Association of University Rectors (ADRU) to offer fixed and mobile internet plans at special prices to more than 600,000 students and 30,000 teachers from 51 universities. This initiative accompanies efforts already in place in the Dominican Republic, where there are more than 1,000 free WiFi hotspots distributed throughout the country.

Public and private sector joint initiatives in Latin America demonstrate the importance and impact of collaborations between the two sectors to achieve quality virtual education. Technology can be a transformative tool that expands the opportunities for all children in the region, but only if it is accompanied by universal access to electricity and the internet. Many of the measures implemented to confront this crisis are temporary, but it is important that telecommunications companies continue to provide additional supportive services until educational establishments reopen in person; otherwise, continuity of education will be impaired. As connectivity remains a limiting factor for vulnerable students, governments and businesses have a duty to work collaboratively to remove this barrier. A family should not have to choose between prioritizing their children's online education and teleworking. Just like a teacher should be able to access the resources they need to teach without having to pay a burdensome fee. The pandemic has accelerated innovation in online education, but to further promote the progress of these tools in the future it is imperative to enhance public-private partnerships to close the connectivity gap.

 

RELATED RESOURCES

Covid-19 in the Americas: The Dialogue’s Coronavirus Updates

How to protect education outcomes in the face of the Covid-19 crisis?

What About the Students?: The Educational Response to Covid-19

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At the Inter-American Dialogue and Teach For All, we believe that this is a critical time for education in Latin America and the Caribbean. After consulting with different educational stakeholders from the public and private sectors about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the educational systems of the region, we are pleased to share a brief analysis of the responses we received. Our aim is to understand the thinking behind efforts related to the delivery of education services, as well as what education systems are doing to ensure students continue learning.

At the institutional level, the responses from the Ministries of Education have been highly diverse in terms of the level of organization, comprehensiveness and capacity to mobilize actors beyond the Ministries themselves. In some cases, the Ministries of Education have organized high-level committees, working groups, and commissions to design plans and discuss actions and proposals in response to the crisis. Although several of these committees include non-governmental organizations, funders and cooperation agencies, the ongoing challenge for these committees and working groups has been the need to consider a technological response to continue providing distance education. In some cases, official responses have sought to integrate different approaches (distance learning programs, teacher training, support to students from vulnerable backgrounds), while in others, responses have so far been more targeted. Additionally, some countries have organized multi-sectoral alliances and campaigns with the participation of civil society to disseminate and accompany ministerial responses.

Peru and Nicaragua offer two contrasting examples of how Ministries are responding to the crisis. In the case of the Ministry of Education (MINEDU) in Peru, the national leadership came together to establish a Covid-19 commission within the MINEDU. Likewise, within the Planning Secretariat, specific roles were assigned to coordinate efforts with civil society and the private sector. The MINEDU also convened roundtables tables with civil society organizations to rethink the school year and the role of educators. The “Aprendo En Casa" national campaign was quickly designed and launched, consisting of an interactive, online learning platform, as well as TV and radio lessons for students in remote areas. In order to enhance learning, MINEDU established partnerships with organizations that already had distance education curricula available (such as Khan Academy) to be included on the “Aprendo en Casa” portal. In order to increase student access to this content, the MINEDU is also in the process of purchasing around 800,000 tablets with permanent internet connections to distribute in remote areas where connectivity is lacking. Beginning in April, academic content is offered to students on television and radio stations. Additionally, the MINEDU has set up another educational program to reach out to 15,000 families, involving over 1,000 volunteers from civil society organizations, and in close coordination with the Ministry of Social Inclusion, to bring the “Qali Warma” supplemental nutrition program to rural areas.

In Nicaragua, the Ministry of Education (MINED) did not close schools, and regular classes have continued. Emergency committees have not been convened nor other actors been called upon. To date, the only response has been a campaign to increase hand washing and a set of potential actions in case the crisis were to worsen significantly. Amongst these possible actions are online education, delivery of printed workbooks, and the use of TV. The remote education strategy supposes a series of guidelines emanating from the central government to educational centers. Despite public schools remaining open, there has still been an educational impact: around 70 percent of private schools have closed and only 60 percent of public school students continue to attend in-person classes.

Resurgence of television (TV) and radio as strategies to keep students learning. Countries are using a wide array of tools to enable distance education, with TV and radio being the main channels. Several countries have implemented programs supported by local non-governmental organizations to train teachers in the use of available platforms and materials in this new context. These same organizations are also developing content and strategies for radio and TV programs to support the ministries’ efforts. Despite the advances in TV, radio and virtual education—including learning platforms and information and communication portals—the limited access to communication technologies and low levels of connectivity continue to hinder equal learning opportunities for all students.

Most teachers continue working virtually, on both professional development and to support students, but face significant challenges. Even though countries have designed training sessions for tech management and have enhanced their courses on academic and socio-emotional content, the crisis has highlighted the gap in the use of technologies and the difficulties ministries face in securing high quality trainings and flexible content delivery. The support of non-governmental organizations has proven useful in the design and delivery of these trainings in countries where ministries have expressed the need for such support during the crisis. Even as teachers find innovative ways to reach students via phone, email, and other portals, not all teachers have access to the necessary technology or have the basic conditions at home to teach virtually—nor do all students have internet access or mobile phones.

School reopening is still uncertain. There is uncertainty around the contingency plans for a possible wave of new infections in the second half of 2020, and actions around reopening schools have been different between the northern and southern hemispheres. In countries in the northern hemisphere where the school year was already well underway, it is unlikely that schools will reopen, with some countries already issuing an official announcement. For example, the Dominican Republic has decided to continue distance education through the end of the school year on June 19. In El Salvador, the school year will continue under different distance education modalities: online, printed study guides for students without access to the internet, and, once materials are prepared, radio and TV lessons. Mexico plans to continue distance education strategies through the end of July, beginning classes for the upcoming school year in August or September depending on the education level. The original goal was for all schools to reopen by June 1 and close the 2019-2020 school year on July 17, only a few weeks later than scheduled.

In the southern hemisphere, where school closures overlapped with the beginning of the school year, the landscape is not so clear. In Argentina, there is no official response. Unofficially, the media speculates that schools will only reopen in September or October. Paraguay has declared that there will be no in-person classes until December 2020, and that learning will continue virtually until then. In Colombia, the reopening of schools has been pushed to the end of June, and in Panama until August or September.

2020 will not be a regular academic year. Reacting flexibly to adjust the curriculum and adapt it to the new normal has proven difficult. The Dominican Republic undertook a curricular revision involving all eighteen regional directorates in the country, and determined that 70 percent of the curriculum had already been taught (according to the time of the school year when the virus hit the country). It established a mandatory diagnostic test when students reenter school in the upcoming school year, and is currently designing recovery plans for different levels of expected results. In Chile, the Unit for Curriculum and Evaluation has prioritized the learning objectives by subject area, although on-the-ground experience suggests that teachers are not knowledgeable on the topic and tend to push through the content regardless of students’ cognitive baseline. Some countries (El Salvador, Guatemala) have announced an adjustment to the curriculum, although it is not clear how this will be handled, and there are no support or recovery plans as of yet. Other countries (Argentina, Panama, Paraguay) have not made any public announcements on the topic. In some cases, there are already conversations around credit recovery (and subsequent curriculum adjustments), but there are no examples of countries that have definitively made that decision. In countries where schools have curricular autonomy (Colombia, Argentina), it will be up to individual education centers to define whether they will make adjustments or not. What is indeed clear is that national learning evaluations will not happen in 2020. It is not as clear how evaluation of learning at the school level will happen.

Reinforcement of the idea that schools have a role in coordinating resources and support for the community, especially in school feeding programs. Throughout this crisis, countries have adopted different strategies at both the national and the local levels. At the national level, some countries have used the police, ministry personnel or local organizations to deliver food to schools and community centers. Locally, schools prepare the food they offer, and families have organized amongst themselves to ensure the delivery of food to students. Most countries reported continuity in their feeding programs.

The Inter-American Dialogue in partnership with Teach For All and other likeminded organizations in the region will continue to monitor the situation and exploring possible responses to guarantee a quality education for all students in the region. In our next edition, we will focus on capturing the voices of teachers amidst the pandemic.

We thank education stakeholders, non-governmental organizations, and other partners for their responses to our survey. Ana Florez is the regional director of Teach For All in the Americas. 

RELATED RESOURCES

Covid-19 in the Americas: The Dialogue's Coronavirus Updates

Early Childhood and Covid-19: Responses to the Emergency How to protect education outcomes in the face of the Covid-19 crisis? [post_title] => What About the Students?: The Educational Response to Covid-19 [post_excerpt] => The Inter-American Dialogue and Teach For All present a brief analysis of the impact that the pandemic has had in the educational systems of the region, based on information provided educational stakeholders representing the public and private sectors. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => response-covid-19 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-07-07 19:45:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-07-07 19:45:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.thedialogue.org/?p=96616 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 94776 [post_author] => 66 [post_date] => 2020-04-10 16:59:31 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-04-10 16:59:31 [post_content] =>

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a crisis in the education systems of Latin America and the Caribbean the likes of which has never been seen before. Throughout the region, schools have closed (or the start of the school year has been delayed) so most students are not attending face-to-face classes. While the situation is still uncertain, in most cases, school closures have been announced until the end of April. Depending on how the health situation progresses, the closure may need to be extended for even more time.

This widespread situation of “educational stress” will most likely have negative impacts on learning outcomes, given that no country is adequately prepared to move to large-scale virtual education as a replacement for traditional, face-to-face education. A major concern is the exacerbation of educational inequity, as children from lower-income households will be less likely to have the resources necessary to take advantage of limited opportunities for virtual education. At the same time, extended school closures will have harmful effects on food availability in households with limited resources, where schools often provide supplementary nutrition and assistance through feeding programs. Furthermore, extended quarantines in overcrowded conditions can be conducive to intensifying domestic violence and abuse that affect children physically and/or socio-emotionally.

Given the current situation, and considering the capacity constraints in most education systems in the region, what solutions can mitigate the negative impacts of school closures?

First and foremost, educational authorities—in addition to leading efforts to ensure continuity in virtual learning—must utilize their essential role as regulators to effectively develop and communicate strategic guidelines for the educational community as a whole. Given the ever-changing situation, families, students, and teachers need to know what is expected of them and under what basic criteria they should operate. Critical information such as the duration of the closure of schools and the standards for graduation, grade promotion, grades and exams should be communicated clearly and transparently to avoid confusion and provide guidance to all members of the educational community.

There is no doubt that, given the diversity of contexts and capacities across the countries of the region, there is hardly a single response that would make distance learning possible for all students. No country in the region has the connectivity, teaching platforms, or practical experience necessary to ensure that all children receive the same virtual education in these circumstances. In other words, it is necessary to consider a myriad of options, which include virtual classes, the use of applications (including through cell phones and not only computers and tablets) and videos, among others. The platforms developed by education authorities in Chile, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay illustrate these multiple approaches to virtual education.

Many of these services are widely available, and numerous providers are opening access to their platforms for free, given the current situation. Nevertheless, connectivity constraints are very serious and leave many households with limited options, not just those in poverty. It is therefore very important that telecommunications companies offer special plans that allow access to free or highly subsidized data packages for educational use.

The obvious interest in new technologies should not make us forget the role that more traditional methods of distance learning such as TV and radio can provide. Examples such as 3-2-1 Edu-Action in Colombia, or radio and TV programming promoted in Peru, are illustrative of these approaches. While ministries of education play an important part in promoting these resources, commercial television and radio companies can also take on a more proactive role in this area.

In all the commotion to expand virtual learning options, it is essential not to forget about teachers. Whether accompanying students in using online platforms, email or text messages, teachers should not be pushed to the side in this emergency. Part of the answer to ensuring continuity of educational processes should be directed towards giving teachers the necessary support so that they are better prepared to respond to their students even while social distancing. The challenge for teachers is twofold: learning to use new technologies and redesigning the format of their classes for virtual learning. Both Uruguay and Costa Rica provide good examples of the resources that are available to teachers.

Unlike the health sector, which is experiencing a sharp increase in demand for qualified personnel, for the education sector the current situation does not require new staff, but rather a strong emphasis on building socio-emotional and leadership skills. In fact, this crisis makes clearer than ever the urgent need to transform the teaching profession from one that is based on an information-transfer model into a model for facilitating skill acquisition.

Parents and caregivers are key players in ensuring the continuity of educational processes. For most of them, this is a task for which they are not prepared and, often, one that they must balance with many other responsibilities. Therefore, the proposals that education systems put forth for virtual learning must be mindful of the role of these adults and do their best to support them in this new responsibility. Again, there must be continuous and transparent communication to avoid ambiguities and confusing messages. During this emergency, civil society organizations, especially those already working on a regular basis in low-resource neighborhoods and with vulnerable populations, can direct their efforts to accompany and support parents to ensure educational continuity, as well as offering support to children who need it most.

Sooner or later, this emergency will end. Even in these early days, it has already shown us that we must invest more and better in teaching models that incorporate new (and old) communication and information technologies into educational processes. In this sense, it will be essential to continue the many ongoing efforts that education authorities are implementing in response to the health emergency.

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