By JESSICA GUERRERO
MORELIA, Michoacán — Despite the growing number of new cases of covid-19 in Mexico during the third wave of the pandemic, the return to in-person classes is still uncertain.
As of Friday, July 30, at least seven Mexican states had reported critical hospital occupancy levels, above 70 percent, while, in most other states, the number of confirmed cases continued to rise. Despite this, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador(AMLO) has repeatedly spoken out against implementing a new lockdown in the country, saying flatly: “Pausing the economy is no longer an option.”
Meanwhile, the number of accumulated cases in the country is about to reach 3 million, according to the latest figures released by Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Health (SSA).
The quandary over whether to return to in-person schooling has been of great concern to the country’s healthcare specialists. Previously, the general medical consensus was that children were not not considered at high risk of contracting the disease. But, in recent weeks, there has been a considerable increase in the number of new cases of covid-19 infections .. particularly the Delta variant — among young children. Nonetheless, this population group has not been included in the government’s national vaccination program.
In addition to this, the imminent return to in-person classes, announced by the federal executive recently, has not been well received by all sectors of Mexican society. This, while concern is growing about the high level of contagiousness of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, especially among those who have not received immunization.
However, the need to implement a strategy to reactivate basic education in the country is undeniable. According to statistics from the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (Imco), since the start of the pandemic, Mexico has registered an educational performance gap of two years.
The unequal situation and challenges faced by a great majority of the students in Mexico to adapt to the online classes system in the last year has led to at least 628,000 students between 6 and 17 years of age having to interrupt their studies due to the economic crisis spurred by the pandemic.
Add to this the fact that most Mexican children do not have access to computers and internet, which means that their interaction with their teachers has been essentially limited to one-sided television broadcasts. And with families with more than one child — as is the case in the vast majority of underprivileged Mexicans — the children have to take turns to watch the televised classes of their respective grades.
Moreover, at least10 million students in Mexico are at a high risk of experiencing academic gaps that would most likely put them at a disadvantage in later years when they enter the global job market.
Another aspect to consider in the back-to-school debate is the importance of in-person classes in the learning process of basic education students. According to experts in the area, social interaction is essential for successfully carrying out different learning processes related to the connection of mental concepts and associations.
Compared to in-person classes, online classes do not seem to be as effective for most students, given different socioeconomic backgrounds and personal circumstances that directly affect their learning conditions and, therefore, their academic performance in the general.
Undoubtedly, the return to in-person classes, despite being a latent risk due to the health risks that this implies, has also become a priority in the federal government’s agenda due to the aggravating educational gap prevalent in primary and secondary school students in Mexico compared to their international counterparts.
In this aspect, AMLO has pointed out that the dismal educational situation in the country, since the start of the pandemic in 2020, is comparable with nations such as Bangladesh. Schools in both Mexico and Bangladesh are the nations whose schools have been closed the longest.
Because the decision to reopen schools on Aug. 30 has encountered severe criticism and objections by some teachers groups and different parent’s associations in Mexico, AMLO has declared that while in-person classes are necessary, they will not be mandatory. He has said that attendance will be voluntary.
Undoubtedly, this situation poses a double-edged sword for both the Mexican government and the population, since, on the one hand, the third wave of covid-19 infections has reached its maximum peak since January 2021 and the number of infected patients continues to increase exponentially day after day.
However, the educational gap between Mexican students compared to other countries in the world, since the pandemic began, has widened and it keeps worsening with every day that students don’t go to classes.
It is therefore necessary to execute a strategy that will allow Mexican students to return to their academic activities as soon as possible, while finding ways to protect them from covid, a difficult tightrope for the country and its population to maneuver.