Health

Brazil resumes school classes amid wide inequality gaps

By Carlos Meneses Sánchez

São Paulo, Brazil, Feb 8 (efe-epa).- Brazil is beginning to resume face-to-face school classes after almost a year of suspension due to the Covid-19 epidemic, which left 5.5 million children and adolescents without access to education in 2020.

In addition to the serious problems in the health sector, Brazil, one of the countries hardest hit by Covid-19, is also experiencing an educational impasse and has had its schools closed for 43 weeks, almost double the world average, according to UNESCO.

After months in which it was not even up for debate, the regional and municipal governments, whose mandates include education, are beginning to gradually resume their classroom schedules. Some Brazilian states expect to reopen between February and March.

On Monday it was the turn of São Paulo, the wealthiest and most industrialized region in Brazil and also one of those most affected by Covid-19, with about 55,000 deaths and 1.8 million cases.

More than 4,500 schools there opened their doors to a maximum class capacity of 35 percent.

Like São Paulo, several Brazilian states have opted for a hybrid system of face-to-face and remote education in order to maintain distancing, although not all families have the necessary equipment.

Almost 40 percent of students in urban public schools in Brazil do not have a computer or tablet at home, according to a survey released in the middle of last year, which highlights the difficulties in imposing mixed education.

The data also reflects the extreme inequality of this country, as among private school students that percentage is only 9 percent.

Furthermore, one in four Brazilians does not have access to the internet, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.

Inequality in homes is also observed in schools, which have better or worse infrastructure to face the pandemic depending on the financial muscle of each municipality or state.

“There are schools that do not have a sink to wash hands. We also know of cases in which schools received alcohol gel in mid-2020, they have not received any more since, and it has already expired. The return (to school) will not be easy,” Priscilla Tavares, specialist in economics of education at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, said.

A study released January by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) showed that 5.5 million Brazilian children and adolescents have not had any type of school activity due to the pandemic, which has caused 9.5 million infections and about 232,000 deaths in the country.

According to the Unicef report, in the northern region, one of the poorest in the country, the number of students who did not get any access to education was double the national average.

“We fear a setback after years of wins in which we managed to place everyone in school,” Tavares warned.

The specialist also considered that, similar to the management of the pandemic from a health point of view, the Ministry of Education “is a little disoriented” when it came to guiding on the best practices for resumption of school classes. EFE-EPA

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