School is Out, COVID is in

I’m sure we have all experienced a shift in our daily routines in the past year. Whether your classes have been replaced by Zoom meetings or your commute has shortened to the distance between your bed and the couch, the covid pandemic has moved our livelihoods increasingly online. For those with proper resources, this has been a rocky adjustment. Slowly but surely, we are getting used to this ‘new normal.’ 

For many more across the world however, this ‘new normal’ has not been as easy to adjust to. Vulnerable people from across the world who were already struggling before the pandemic are the ones who have been hit hardest by lockdowns, school closings and the rapid on-boarding of online employment. 

Zooming in to the Mexican example, we can start to see how different people have experienced this catastrophic event. As schools across Mexico remain closed in response to the covid pandemic, existing inequalities deepen. This threatens an entire generation of Mexican youth.

Students Become Teachers

With schools closed in Mexico, students are expected to teach themselves. For those with an internet connection, they can download and submit their assignments virtually. They can also communicate with their teachers and classmates on WhatsApp. In Mexico, 9 in 10 people have a smartphone so, for most, this is a viable solution. That 1 in 10, however, makes up 8 million people who do not have access to their assignments, their classmates or their teachers.

While this is a difficult but manageable change for many students who come from middle- and upper-class backgrounds, those from marginalised communities are having a tougher time. In many rural communities in Mexico, families do not have enough extra cash to buy a smartphone. They also can’t afford to continually recharge it with data to download and submit assignments. And even if they did, the internet connections in these rural spaces is spotty at best. According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), only 27% of students in rural areas have internet access at home.

Inequalities Deepen

In response to this obvious gap, the Mexican government implemented a program that would air education programs for different grade levels on television and radio. While this is a step in the right direction, it does not account for the 1.5 million students who don’t have a television at home. Of those who have TVs at home, 1.4 million are analog and can’t pick up the digital signal the classes are broadcast on. For students who do have the proper TV or radio, access to electricity is another obstacle in their way. While radio and TV seem like a reasonable option, one instance of prolonged rain or gap in electricity could set a student back weeks.

Most of these communities are made up of indigenous people living in remote, rural areas. There has been an effort made for instructors to provide personalised attention to individual students and hand deliver their assignments, but the up-keep and sustainability of this solution is tenuous at best. As it stands now, the poorest households–who are already disadvantaged–stand a greater disadvantage compared to others with technology and tools to continue classes online. This serves to deepen the education gap in Mexico and, thereby, deepen inequalities that already existed.

In a non-pandemic year, nearly 600.000 students dropout of high school each year in Mexico, one of the highest rates in Latin America. Whether it be for financial, academic or other reasons, only 7 out of 10 students who enter upper secondary school finish on time. As a result of the covid-19 pandemic, that number is predicted to double in even the most conservative estimates. As of now, there is no comprehensive plan to prevent high dropouts. 

ANIMA and Global Connect

In the absence of government support for vulnerable communities in Mexico, we are trying to bridge the gap. With our on-the-ground team, we have been connecting to various remote villages to figure out how we can best help them gain better access to their education. The first step is making sure every student has the tools needed to access classes while schools are closed due to covid.

We can put our old electronics to good use and help students access their education across Mexico. As we mentioned above, those who come from marginalised or vulnerable populations have been hardest hit by their schools closing. They lack the internet connectivity that would make accessing their education so much easier. We can’t solve this entrenched inequality all at once. What we can do is help make a dent in it in the short-term while we search for long-term solutions.

This is an example of the kinds of connections we strive to make. Coming together as a global community requires us to take care of each other.