Panama City, May 31 (EFE).- A total of 78 schools, of the more than 3,100 in Panama, on Monday began blending in-person and virtual classes after more than a year of being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic amid criticism and applause for the authorities for their handling of education amid the health crisis.
Last April, UNICEF said that after 16 months with its schools closed, Panama was the country with the largest number of days without in-person or blended classes, and that the safe, gradual, flexible and voluntary reopening of schools was imperative for guaranteeing equitable access to education.
The offering of blended classes on Monday was launched at schools with low student populations and located in areas with a low incidence of Covid. The classes include attending in-person classes on several days for a few hours each week in small and staggered groups.
Initially, authorities announced the reopening of 100 schools, but at the last minute the Education Ministry (Meduca) took 22 of them off the list because in the areas where they are located the number of Covid-19 cases has begun to increase after a period during which the pandemic seemed to have been under control.
Panama’s Industrial and Agricultural Chamber of Commerce (CCIAP) criticized the fact that 22 of the schools had been removed from the reopening list, since they had prepared “for months” to do so, and the organization said that “the scientific evidence shows that infections are not occurring in schools or workplaces” but rather “during leisure time” and amid “community gatherings.”
Panamanian authorities in March 2020 ordered the closure of all schools and since then classes have been delivered via media such as the Internet – where available – along with radio and television.
The discussion about the opening of schools is dividing parents, with some calling for long-distance learning to continue until the entire Panamanian population has been vaccinated out of fear that children will become infected, and others demanding a return to the classrooms arguing that the children are not getting sufficient or quality education from home.
According to official figures, more than 57,000 teachers and administrative officials in schools being readied to reopen are being vaccinated against Covid.
So far, Panama has suffered 377,776 confirmed Covid cases and 6,370 deaths. Despite the fact that 14 percent of the population has been vaccinated and a certain amount of control has been gained over the spread of the disease, authorities are insisting that the public continue following the biosecurity guidelines, given that currently an increase in daily cases is being registered.
The Las Zanguengas educational center in western Panama is one of the 78 schools that is reopening and providing blended classes to its students.
“Today, we’re beginning that interaction with the children, and we’re hoping it will be very satisfactory because we’ve gone a year outside the educational framework,” school principal Lenny Perez told EFE.
All the health protocols issued by health and government authorities have been followed and ensuring that they are properly adhered to is being monitored by volunteer parents by taking the temperature of all the children at school and cleaning and sanitizing the classrooms after the different groups of students depart.
“If they have the chance to return to class, which they’re doing, we can return to our classrooms with a lot of security. There’s nothing better than that interaction between teacher and student,” Perez said.
Julisa Rivera, 26, is one of the volunteer mothers who is helping take the kids’ temperature and clean the classrooms after classes, both for the morning and afternoon student shifts.
“We’re motivated to come and help the teacher because it benefits the children (and) they learn more,” Rivera told EFE.