Remote learning’s deficiencies leave Venezuelan students adrift

By Barbara Agelvis

Caracas, Jan 29 (efe-epa).- Venezuelan grade-school and university students have not attended in-person classes for nearly a year due to the government’s coronavirus restrictions, relying instead on online instruction that is hampered by technical problems and a lack of resources and training.

The poor quality of telecommunications, badly underpaid teachers who lack experience with technology and frequent blackouts are some of the factors adversely affecting educational quality during the pandemic.

Elvira Gonzalez, a 24-year-old law student at this capital’s Central University of Venezuela, has not received classes since last March nor any clear information about how to continue her course of study under a different modality.

She said the situation is similar for students of philosophy, cytotechnology, economic sciences and engineering, although academic authorities say at least half of the students at public institutions of higher education are receiving online classes.

Young learners, meanwhile, also are facing daunting obstacles in gaining access to high quality instruction, a problem that stems from Venezuela’s long-standing economic crisis and is not exclusively due to the pandemic.

“The education system at this time in Venezuela is functioning, but very poorly … if there were already shortcomings due to infrastructure problems, problems with teacher desertion,” the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic, the president of the Venezuelan Teachers’ Federation, Orlando Alzuru, told Efe.

He said that in October the federation conducted a survey through its 27 unions nationwide to gauge the reach of online education.

“95 percent (of the parents) of those surveyed responded that … they didn’t have the economic conditions to buy a late-model computer … to provide their children with online education,” Alzuru said.

He added that “94 percent of Venezuelan teachers … responded that they didn’t have the digital capacity to assume this type of education.”

Online instruction requires investment, with teachers needing at minimum a stable Internet connection and Web-enabled equipment, and public institutions and teachers say the government is not guaranteeing those resources.

Teachers receive a monthly salary of $5, while obtaining a “reasonably stable” Internet connection from a private company can cost around $50 a month.

Their only other option is to rely on state-run Internet service provider CANTV, whose service is plagued by constant interruptions.

Even so, despite leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s having suggested the possibility of a return to in-person classes, Alzuru said he does not support that alternative.

He said the epidemiological conditions are not in place and that it would be difficult for public schools and those with cramped conditions to ensure sufficient social-distancing and adequate hygiene requirements, especially considering the country’s frequent water shortages.

The situation at universities is potentially even more problematic due to both the health concerns and the widespread dissatisfaction of professors, who have stated publicly they will no longer work for a salary of $5.

The perspective of parents and students, however, is different.

The Network of Fathers, Mothers and Legal Guardians of Venezuela questions why Maduro’s administration has allowed malls, bars, theaters, cafes and restaurants to open but not educational establishments.

In the judgment of that network, in-person classes should be resumed under an orderly health monitoring plan.

“If you have to have a site open during the pandemic, have the schools open. Why? Because at school there’s order. There are some clear norms, instructions are followed … and if someone gets sick at school, you know who to call,” the network’s coordinator, Lila Vega, said.

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