In these unprecedented times, schools all over the world have had to adjust their pedagogy in order to be able to support their children and further their learning. As we arrive at the 7th month of school closures due to the State of Emergency in Guatemala, our own Dreamer Center and Scheel Center Schools have had to answer the same question as every other school: how do you educate children during a global pandemic?
For many schools around the world, the change from learning in the classroom to learning at home was not too drastic, even seamless for some. Schools simply switched from learning in the classroom to learning online, with classes through Zoom, school intranet, and email. Children continued to see their teachers, albeit through a screen, and make progress in their learning.
However, this is simply not an option for the children in our schools. Our Guatemalan families do not have the technology available to them to access websites or Zoom calls. In fact, many families do not even have secure electricity in their homes to access any technology at all.
At first, when people were not able to leave their homes, our teachers sent worksheets and school work to the families through the medium of WhatsApp. The teachers created guides with work for the week and sent it from their homes to the schools’ directors to then forward on to the children. The families provided us their phone numbers or the number of a neighbour who could pass the work on to them, received the work and then sent it back to the schools through their phones. It was noted, though, that this was still an extremely difficult process for many families who did not have mobile phones, or the ability to pay for mobile data to receive and send their schoolwork. Furthermore, many families had no way to print the work or download it.
The schools therefore had to rethink how they could best support the learning of their many families, and arrived at the current system. Now, rather than sending the work to the families, the families come to the Dreamer Center and pick up their schoolwork. We have set up a way for families to receive their schoolwork while adhering to stringent safety and hygiene protocols. There are strict social distancing measures in place, and people who enter are required to have a temperature check, wear masks, and use antibacterial gel. They receive their work one at a time and at a distance from the directors and teachers. The children take the school guides, which have work for two weeks at a time, and complete the work at home. Then they bring it back and receive the next school guide.
Is it a perfect system? No, of course not. Many families struggle to complete the work at home as the parents of the children have never received a formal education themselves and so are unable to help their children. For this, we have directors and teachers available to the families to provide support and plans to make it easier for the families, either through phone calls or socially distanced chats. Ideally the children would return to school as soon as possible, but the security measures put in place by the government mean that this is not currently possible. These measures do seem to be working, however, as the number of active cases in Guatemala has been steadily falling.
As we arrive at the end of the school year in October, it seems more and more likely that schools will remain closed until at least the start of 2021. We will continue to monitor the guidelines put in place by the government to best prepare to provide quality learning for our many schoolchildren so they can stay on track to advance to the next grade.