Lima, Aug 21 (EFE).- Hundreds marched in this capital on Saturday to call for a return to in-person classes more than 17 months after Peru’s schools were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are on the list that nobody wants to be on: the list of countries that have forgotten education,” Milagros Saez, spokesperson for the group Let’s Return to Class Peru, told Efe during the protest in Lima.
“I think there are seven countries left in the world (besides Peru) without schools open and planes for return,” she said.
The academic year was barely under way when coronavirus reached Peru in March 2020 and then-President Martin Vizcarra ordered schools and universities to shift to remote learning.
Only 220,000 of the country’s 8 million pupils have resumed in-person classes.
Saez said that support for the idea of a march grew after Prime Minister Guido Bellido said earlier this week that officials still don’t know whether the state of the pandemic will allow schools to re-open fully in 2022.
“Students cannot wait any longer,” she said. “Pilot (programs) in urban zones should have been running by now, as all schools in Peru should return to semi-in-person learning in March 2022. It’s something that should be in the planning phase now.”
Noting that the World Bank and Unicef, among other institutions, have published protocols for the safe re-opening of schools, Saez said Peru is not in a position of having to re-invent the wheel.
“What we ask for,” she said, is a “voluntary, gradual and flexible return.”
Critics say that distance-learning is not a solution for a Peru given the lack of Internet connectivity in Amazonian jungles and high in the Andes.
Preliminary estimates based on figures from the education ministry indicate that more than 700,000 primary and secondary students – as much as 9 percent of the total – have abandoned their studies or “are at risk of doing so,” Daniel Contreras, an education specialist with the Unicef office in Peru, told Efe.
Prior to the pandemic, Peru’s 5 percent school dropout rate was one of the lowest in Latin America.
The absence of in-person classes also has an impact on students’ mental health, as they are deprived of the “socialization” that is part of going to school, Contreras said.
“Accelerating this process of opening is imperative,” the Unicef representative said.
Peru’s new president, Pedro Castillo, spent years as a rural schoolteacher and led the teachers union before venturing into politics this year.
On Friday, 23 days after taking office, he gave the education ministry 20 days to formulate a plan for resuming in-person classes.
While 60 percent of Peruvian schools have undergone renovations to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19, just under half of teachers have been fully vaccinated.
Peru has been among the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than 2.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 198,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19.
That total translates to 600 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest case fatality rate in the world.
Covid-19 has also battered the Peruvian economy, which shrank by 11.8 percent in 2020. EFE mmr/dr