By Gina Baldivieso
El Alto, Bolivia, Feb 1 (EFE).- Bolivian children and teenagers on Tuesday returned to classes – some of them remotely and others, like those in the city of El Alto, in person and with biosafety measures against Covid-19 in place including obligatory facemasks and readily available hand sanitizer.
Starting early Tuesday morning and despite the cold rain that was falling, schools like the March 23 Educational Unit and the neighboring Alonso de Mendoza school in the city’s Ventilla district once again welcomed hundreds of students and their parents who came to the inaugural events for the new school year.
At the March 23 E.U. there was a greater crowd since it was one of the schools selected by the national government to host special events to kick off the start of classes with the attendance of Vice President David Choquehuanca and Economy Minister Marcelo Montenegro, among other officials.
Children, teens and adults passed one by one through the disinfectant area set up at the door of the school and later they took their places on the large schoolyard to participate in the ceremony.
The smallest kids were wearing traditional outfits for the “moseñada” dance, with multicolored weavings by indigenous Bolivians and “lluch’us,” the Andean gloves made of wool, while the teens wore their uniforms with the blue and gray colors of the school.
Some of the students wore small bottles of alcohol or sanitizing gel on cords around their necks to disinfect their hands periodically.
The official ceremony was one of speeches, dances and enthusiasm, above all from the parents and teachers who presented the authorities with ponchos and garlands of flowers and bread.
When it was his turn to speak, Choquehuanca alternated between Spanish and Aymara in addressing the attendees, noting that three educational methods are used in Bolivia: in-person, semi-present and virtual learning.
“We have to get into this virtual education and protect ourselves against the coronavirus, protect ourselves with pharmacological medicine and ancestral medicine, natural (and) traditional medicine,” he said.
Bolivian President Luis Arce participated in the inauguration of the school year from Sucre, the country’s constitutional capital, and his other cabinet ministers spread out to the country’s other regions to represent the government.
A few blocks away from the March 23 E.U. school is the Alonso de Mendoza Educational Unit, where more than 400 students were already in their classrooms, all of them wearing facemasks.
Some were going over their mathematics lessons, others were talking with their teachers about the characteristics of Covid-19 and the measures they must take to deal with the virus that had kept them away from classes during 2020 and for part of 2021.
And it was at this school that students were able to return to in-person classes during the final months of 2021, school principal Ruben Apaza told EFE.
“We’re forced by the situation. There’s no sign of the Internet. It costs more if some have it at home and it’s not for everyone. So, we don’t want to give an advantage to some who have Wifi at home. Education is for everyone (and so) this school year is being kicked off (with) in-person (learning),” he said.
This school also has a disinfection area at the entrance and everyone must wear a facemask to go to the classrooms and must disinfect their hands regularly, the principal said, adding that he thinks it is also necessary to “adapt to living with Covid like we’re doing with the common cold and other illnesses.”
“You have to face it with psychological courage, courage in eating, using ancestral knowledge, pharmaceutical medications and the vaccines, as appropriate,” he said.
When the bell sounds for recess, the students head out of their classrooms and some play soccer in the schoolyard while others go to the little kiosk to buy a piece of candy. Meanwhile, several parents watch them from the other side of the large yard.
“Here you can learn a little better, since if you have any doubt (about something) you can ask the teacher. On the other hand, doing it from a computer isn’t the same,” Alexander Ramos, one of the high school students, told EFE.
Romina Bravo, another high-schooler, said that “it’s fun” to return to in-person classes because at the start of the pandemic she was “really cooped up with homework” but now the kids have “more breathing room” and can get reacquainted with their friends and classmates.