Mexico’s Return to School Begins amid Uncertainty
By KELIN DILLON
On Monday, Aug. 30, more than 25 million Mexican students and 2 million teachers finally returned to in-person classes after more than 17 months away from educational centers due to the effects of the covid-19 pandemic — though not without widespread uncertainty and controversy around the move.
First, the National Union of Parents (UNFP) noted a distinct lack of safe drinking water in approximately 23 percent of the country’s public schools, impeding students’ return without the proper infrastructure to care for them.
Likewise, teachers from the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), who got into a vocal confrontation with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) over the weekend, claimed they would refuse to provide face-to-face classes in Mexico City, Guerrero, Chiapas and Oaxaca due to unsafe health conditions. Meanwhile, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said some 90 percent of public and private schools were open and functioning, contradicting the CNTE’s claims.
Education specialist Francisco Landero remarked that the return to classes cannot be carried out with one sweeping general plan, as the specific situation of each and every school can vary widely and the move is being made “in the absence of an orderly, systematic and well-thought-out strategy on the part of the federal government and the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP).”
While a few Mexican states like Querétaro and Jalisco will implement routine testing to help track coronavirus infections in their school systems, the majority are left without any distinct plan on how to carry out proper epidemiological surveillance. Likewise, Sinaloa and Michoacán have rejected implementing face-to-face classes, choosing instead to continue providing education virtually.
As many teachers return themselves to in-person education, families of students who choose to continue virtual classes will suffer without them, enduring an educational punishment of sorts for families that value their children’s health over returning them to an unsafe and uncertain environment.
Other experts in the sector pointed out how curbing the spread of covid-19 is particularly difficult among young students as they have a tendency to hug and touch each other, as well as share possessions.
When promoting the return to class on Monday morning during his daily morning press conference, López Obrador spent the morning talking to school boards and governors about the educational reopening while likewise designating a half hour of publicity to the pre-sale of his new, half-finished book, at the expense of the officials’ time.