By Barbara Agelvis
Caracas, Aug 23 (EFE).- Teachers concerned about the impact of pandemic-triggered school closures on the academic development of children in Petare – a sprawling Caracas hillside slum that is one of Venezuela’s poorest shantytowns – have opened the doors of their homes to help alleviate the situation.
The initiative, which began a few months ago and has seen steadily increasing demand, stems from the difficulties children have had continuing their studies after schools were closed to prevent a sharp increase in coronavirus cases.
Frequent power outages, slow Internet speeds, lack of funds to buy or rent a computer and a teacher shortage made distance learning a major challenge.
Attempts to impart instruction via television also have fallen short, with parents’ associations complaining that episodes are being repeated or are not age-appropriate for their children.
In response, several teachers with backing from the non-profit Zona Descarga organization decided to open the doors of their homes to children in Petare, most of whom arrive with used notebooks, broken pencils or no school materials at all.
Parents in underprivileged areas are often unable to afford new schools supplies due to the dire economic situation in Venezuela, a country mired in a long recession where the monthly minimum salary is around $2.50, but they are making an effort to compensate the teachers for their time, sometimes paying them with food.
“What they give me is very little, but we’re all pitching in,” said Jasmin Castro, an early education professional who opened her home at the request of local parents.
She spoke to Efe from a room in her house in Petare, adding that she provides instruction in all subjects for two hours a day.
These teachers in particular are helping students of different ages with homework assignments sent via email or WhatsApp, a valuable service considering that for a Venezuelan public-school student receiving a live online class is virtually impossible due to a lack of resources.
The 11-year-old son of housewife Yendri Ochoa was left without a teacher halfway through the school year, yet even though he had not covered all the material at his grade level he was pushed along to the first year of secondary school.
Looking to ensure her son is prepared when in-person schooling resumes, she had him attend classes offered by teachers at their homes in Petare.
“He didn’t fall behind because she (the teacher) helped me here with his homework,” said Ochoa, who still does not know when or where her son will begin his first year of secondary school.
At present, around 14 homes are functioning as schools or educational reinforcement centers in Petare, with 153 children benefiting from those initiatives. Zona Descarga plans to create a network of these houses and provide them with donations of books, paper supplies, furniture and paints, most of them used.
“This isn’t something improvised. This came from an idea that later many people started contributing to so that a plan could be carried out to attend to that community in a comprehensive way, because it not only benefits children, but also parents,” said Zona Descarga’s Jimmy Perez, a promoter of anti-violence initiatives.
Venezuela’s government plans to allow in-person schooling to resume in October although that will depend on greater success with its Covid-19 vaccine rollout, since just over 3.6 million doses have been administered thus far in a country of 30 million inhabitants. EFE