Despite the difficulties and challenges brought by the growing global pandemic due to COVID-19, education keeps fighting from different fronts to provide a better future and change the realities of those who will transform the country.
Even though due to the growing global pandemic, education has had to face numerous challenges, in addition to those that it had been facing in a country like Colombia, there are still educators, youngs and people who keep fighting for the right to Education continues reaching Colombian families. To learn a little more about these challenges and about the initiatives to face them, we have contacted a teacher from the city of Pasto, who gave us his opinions in an anonymous form about how this crisis has been faced in the country’s institutions. We also contacted Andrés Felipe Prieto, a Project Manager of educational solutions, who told us about how technology has been implemented in Colombian education and the obstacles that still remain to be overcome to provide these tools to students. Lastly, we contacted Ana María Pinzón Vargas, a student of bachelor in mathematics at the Universidad Pedagogica Nacional, who is a tutor in the PREA social program, providing education support to children with limited resources, who told us a bit about the difficulties that these families face at the moment to keep with the educational process of children and young students. All this gives us a general sight of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected us, but at the same time exposing those people who, despite the problems, still stand, to support the construction of a better future for our students.
THE REALITY OF EDUCATION AMID THE CRISIS
It is no secret to anyone that in these times of crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us, the educational system has had to face new challenges, either by digital media or by adopting homework as a means of keeping students healthy and education afloat. Parents, schools, institutes, and universities have had to adapt to the fact of not having direct and personal communication between students and teachers, it is here when digital media have taken a fundamental role in the education of the young. Virtual platforms, communication by email, or by social networks have become a way to mitigate the damage to education due to the growing pandemic. However, we must be aware of the reality of our country and face the fact that not everyone has enough resources to access these digital media, is in these cases, how many young, teachers and citizens do, we must find a way to guarantee the future of education and with it the future of new generations.
THE CHALLENGES OF EDUCATION IN THE FACE OF PANDEMIC
To comment a little on how schools are dealing with the inconveniences that the pandemic has brought, we have contacted a teacher from the city of Pasto, who told us about some of the challenges that schools face keeping education in these times of the coronavirus. This is part of the interview that we did via WhatsApp where this teacher expressed some opinions about the actions taken in schools.
Once the first case of contagion in the country was known, what actions were taken to prevent or inform students about this problem?
“In the first instance, some communiqués came from the state informing us about some things that were happening in the world and that we think about possible educational strategies to face the situation that possibly would reach the country. So the principal took action in telling the students what was happening, very strict measures were established for hand washing, and each classroom had hand sanitizer. And those who had to control all that would be the teachers, since we are the ones who are a little more aware of them.
Did you receive help or any training from the health authorities to help the students?
“We follow the communications of the health ministry, there it specifies about hand washing, and in the same form, we taught it to the students. And regarding aid, no. Most of it was from the educational staff, you know that in this country there are not enough resources to put soap in all schools, much less in universities(public). ”
How do you think these actions would have been improved”
“that the students apply them at home, many or almost all of my students did not see it as a topic of importance so they did not care (at the beginning) but afterward they started to informed the situation and they had a monumental change.”
When you were informed that the students would no longer move to the educational facilities, what actions did the teachers take to ensure the continuity of the educational process?
“It was March 15 because of the president’s announcement, so we had to apply the strategies that we had formulated with all the teachers in the staff. The next day all the teachers met and we saw that virtuality was one of the best options, but also that many of the students who do not have resources would have inconveniences with this option, so each teacher would have to make feedback with those students who they didn’t have the Internet, through workshops.
How do these feedbacks through workshops work?
“All the subject given by digital media must be delivered to each student by guides because on the last day the parents were given the guides for 2-week work, the doubts are resolved when the students return since there will be another feedback of the topics ”
What do you think is the biggest challenge that education is facing in this emergency?
“The use of ICT’S(information and communication techniques) by teachers with advanced age is very difficult for them. The government has been working on that I think that with the majority of teachers in Colombia, in the educational establishment that I work there are virtual platforms, interactive boards, and believe me, many teachers do not know how to use them. So more accompaniment from there is very hard.
Do you consider that the government should have had an action plan in educational institutions when they considered the possibility that the virus could reach Colombia?
Yes, of course, schools were informed when the virus was already very developed worldwide
finally, what do you think is the importance of keeping education in this kind of situation?
“The important thing is the non-cancellation of the year and semester for the Universities, besides that isolation can generate anxiety in many of the students and is a good tool for them to keep busy while this pandemic ends.”
TECHNOLOGY AS A MEANS OF TEACHING
Although not all children indeed have the possibility of accessing the Internet in our country, there is no doubt that the implementation of technologies in education has become the main tool to keep the educational process in these times of crisis. To learn a little more about these technologies we have contacted Andrés Felipe Prieto, who is a Project manager for Blackboard, a provider of educational solutions, such as virtual classrooms, used in different educational institutes such as SENA or universities such as Pontificia Universidad Javeriana or Universidad de Los Andes. He told us a bit about the importance of technologies for education in these times of crisis and gave us his opinion about the difficulties that they have had for their implementation in our country.
What do you think is the importance of implementing virtual platforms in education in our country?
“Colombia is a country that still has many delays in digital education issues; In the university field, many universities have a poor or bad administered LMS (learning management system), much more when we speak about schools in general. also is to consider that, although the government has put a lot of interest in digitizing the population and today there is Internet service in parts where it was previously unthinkable; it is still a big challenge that families have the necessary resources to get the necessary devices. Not only for the economic part but also cultural, since even by giving away the devices (computers to educate, tablets are given by mobile operators) these are little care or end as a business in the hands of a few. Encouraging the use and adoption of virtual educational platforms can expand the school capacity of the institution (be it a college or university)since it allows extracurricular assignments, secondary learning and is an easy way to have control, current platforms allow a mix of content (video, text, documents) and also in many cases they allow videoconferences. In a situation like the current one, it is vitally important that we know how to use them and take advantage of them at 100%. “
How do you think this type of technology should be implemented in the less favored sectors that due to the quarantine have slowed down their educational process?
Instead of thinking about how to implement these technologies, one must first think about how to guarantee access to the technological means (computers, tablets, Internet) that are needed to achieve technological expansion; It is useless for us to ensure that each public school (where the majority of students from the less favored sectors are) have a virtual platform if the students don’t have a way to access it. A viable solution would be the configuration of community centers, which has been seen working in remote areas of the country with community Internet access (points vive digital)
For institutions to become moderately digital, the state could use moodle, which is open source and is a platform that responds well. Of course, the configuration, maintenance, and storage of said platforms would incur a cost; besides, training should also be considered (even if it is remote) so that teachers and students know how to get the most of the tool. “
What do you think has been the biggest drawback in Colombia to implement the type of initiatives like the ones you just told us about?
Especially corruption and second the will, if you see the budgets assigned, for example, the program computer for everyone, they are not minor budgets, however, when you see what is really delivered, there is progress, but you can see that it really not all money was used in the right way. If the country would do digital education a priority, as well as at the time the ICT ex-minister Diego Molano made the connection program of almost the entire national territory to a fiber-optic network and this at the same time will provide the Internet. The project was made by Azteca Comunicaciones and great progress was seen, Internet connections in places where there were none, low-speed connections at also low prices for most of the population, also the elimination of VAT for computers (at the time) of less of COP 1'800,000 (USD 479). If all this was possible even with the failures (which there were), it shows that it is a lack of decision, leadership, and also control of results. “
What message do you want to give to teachers and students about the challenges they face to keep education going?
“A general message would be that you have to keep busy, these quarantine times can have an impact in one way or another on mental health, both teachers and students were used to a routine of leaving their homes and the only fact of losing that affects us on several levels … Staying busy helps that empty spaces are not so frequent, and of course, they have all right to feel low at some point, but I think this is the best way to stay active and like that be able to do education even if it is virtual. “
YOUNG PEOPLE THAT STRUGGLE FOR EDUCATION IN TIMES OF CRISIS
In addition to the enormous efforts made by teachers to continue in the educational process in the face of the growing pandemic, some young people seek to give their grain of sand to the difficulties that some parents present with the homework and guides that are used as school reinforcement. As is the case of Ana María Pinzón Vargas, a mathematics undergraduate student at the Universidad pedagógica Nacional, who works as a tutor in the social program PREA in the campus at the center of Bogotá, in which “emotional support, nutritional and with homework is carried out to low-income children, who are in violent urban environments and remain alone because the family members with whom they live work in anything they can, ‘’ she explains. Also, she clarifies that the quarantine brought a change in how the program is carried out regularly since it tells us that “The children have a journey Monday to Friday from 12:15 to 4:30 p.m. Where they receive lunch and a snack. There are three groups (distributed according to the school grade in which they are), everyone in charge of a teacher and each one guide the children in the way of reacting and acting in front of their situations and living conditions, showing them the opportunities they have and the goals they can reach when they know their skills, capabilities and their worth as a person, what they can achieve if they decide to do things differently from what surrounds them. ‘’ We wanted to know a little about how the accompaniment process has changed due to the quarantine and how they struggle to guarantee the education of these children.
When you found out that we would enter into preventive quarantine, what actions did you take to continue supporting students with their educational process?
The children stopped having classes at school on Monday, March 16, we went into preventive quarantine on Friday, March 20. The foods that were intended for the children’s lunch and snacks were distributed (by the program administration) in small provisions for their families, ensuring that they would have food during the quarantine days. The teachers guide the children in the development of the guides that they have from school and solve doubts if they have. During the quarantine days, through the WhatsApp of the children’s mothers, this orientation work is carried out with some of the students of the program and the older siblings who do not belong to it (particularly from the fourth to eighth grades). The work is carried out via WhatsApp because the children do not have access to computers at home. “
LET’S TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE REALITY OF THE COUNTRY
Besides, she tells us that, although the schools have taken actions, many did not consider the realities in which many children live, and giving the teachers’ emails is often not enough to keep communication with the students and more even when many mothers only have WhatsApp as a means of communication.
Do you think that more communication facilities with tutors should be implemented in schools?
“Yes, the majority of public schools sent the guides and gave as a means of access to teachers and solution of doubts emails without taking into account that most of the students do not have access to computers or Internet at home and can’t get it when they are in isolation. I understand that it is difficult to provide a better means of communication, but they should have allowed (as some teachers did) access to teachers via WhatsApp since most of the mothers only have that means of communication. “
From your perspective, what are the aspects of education that have been most compromised with the issue of quarantine?
Due to the quarantine, the pedagogical accompaniment of the teachers to the children was lost and this prevents the guided learning and adequate understanding of academic topics. Only a school reinforcement is being carried out through the guides, but there is no dynamic of active teaching and learning. “
ACCOMPANYING CHILDREN IN THEIR STUDY CHANGES LIVES
Ana María shared with us an experience to reflect on what it means to carry out an accompaniment process in the education of children, it is a short story that shows us the importance of continuing to accompany students in these processes.
Your work of accompaniment in the educational process is something that is impressive and what turns out to be a change in the face of all the challenges that we face. Would you like to tell us about any experience you have had with this work?
Each child is a different process, some more complicated than others, but all valuable, with great virtues and one, learns from all.
In an activity to understand the commemoration of women’s day, I raised a situation of a classroom setting in the time where women had no right to speak and I asked for their opinion about it and I was pleasantly surprised, the girls were firm In their position, the importance of making their points of view known, without putting aside the opinions of men, and boys commented the great contributions made by men and women when speak and carry out different activities. In the end, a reflection was made where they gave their perspective and it was concluded that everyone is valuable, they have the same rights, they are not the same because everyone has different abilities, but everyone is capable of achieving great things. That day was exciting, cheerful, and very comforting because it is a small reflection of what is being worked on and in what the children are being guided. “
WE HAVE HOPE FOR A BETTER TOMORROW.
Without a doubt despite the problems that education has been facing due to the global pandemic, in addition to the problems that already exist even before the arrival of COVID-19 in our country. Education has kept fighting and will fight to transform the realities of many young people who aspire to a better tomorrow, even so, we must pressure the government and our legislators to do not let the educational processes end and to implement quality technologies at a low cost so that families with few resources are not deprived of the right to education. It is to teachers, students, parents, and in general, to those people who still do their bit to transform lives, that we still have hope for a better tomorrow, many challenges will come not only in the field of education but with perseverance we will achieve that the children and young people of today become the professionals who will change the history of our country.
Jhoan Sebastian Sierra Vargas, (Mathematician)
Anonymous (Teacher from the city of grass)
Andrés Felipe Prieto, (Project manager of educational solutions)
Ana María Pinzón Vargas, (Undergraduate student in mathematics at the National Pedagogical University)
Maira Lorena Tarazona Pulido (Social communicator and journalist)
William Sebastian Latorre Moreras.