LA PAZ – Low-income families across the impoverished South American nation of Bolivia have experienced major difficulties with the distance learning model implemented at the onset of the pandemic, while in rural areas the problem has been especially acute due to the lack of devices and Internet connectivity.
The current academic year began with the hope of better results than in 2020, when in-person instruction was suspended in March due to the coronavirus crisis and then the poor results of online schooling prompted the Bolivian government to abruptly cancel classes nationwide in August, more than three months ahead of schedule.
One Bolivian mother who has struggled with remote education has been Noemi Andrade, a resident of La Paz whose six school-aged children initially had to share a single cellphone to connect to their classes.
That situation improved after her family received a laptop and a tablet that were donated as part of a campaign known as Manitos Sucias (Dirty Little Hands), which is helping children from low-income households in La Paz continue their studies.
Even so, she still needs to scrap together enough money to purchase small Internet packages; when those megabytes run out, the only solution is for her children to connect to their classes at the door of their home using a neighbor’s WiFi connection.
Carla, a resident of the nearby highland city of El Alto, has faced similar challenges.
A worker at a candy kiosk, she says she has had to assume the dual role of salesperson and tutor for her seven-year-old daughter, Hanan, who accompanies her at the store and has difficulty keeping up with her peers while following the classroom activities on a cellphone screen.
The challenges of distance learning are even more daunting in rural areas.
Antonia Yujra, a resident of San Pablo de Tiquina, a small western town on the shores of Lake Titicaca, said her son was unable to grasp the school content under the distance learning approach that was put in place last year.
She said that problem was widespread in her rural community, estimating that only 30 percent of households were able to participate in the online education model because the vast majority lacked the necessary resources.
To rectify that veritable crisis, an agreement was reached between teachers and parents to launch a hybrid system starting in March at Unidad Educativa San Pablo de Tiquina, the school’s principal, Edwin Canaza, told EFE.
Under the new regime, the younger students attend in-person schooling three days a week and study remotely the other two days. High-school students study on the premises five days a week, albeit under strict protocols that limit the number of people per classroom to just 20 to ensure proper social distancing.
That model of study became possible after the town’s health center issued a report showing a complete absence of coronavirus cases, part of a larger trend in Bolivia where the number of new infections has fallen sharply nationwide over the past several weeks.