School year kicks off in Panama with eye on making up lost ground

Panama City, Mar 6 (EFE).- A new academic year kicked off in Panama on Monday with more than 950,000 enrolled students and the challenge of continuing to reverse educational losses stemming from coronavirus-triggered school closures.

“There were quite a lot of learning limitations. We know (the students) come from two years of distance learning,” Irina Aguilar, principal of the Ernesto T. Lefevre school, a refurbished public school in the Panamanian capital, told Efe, referring to the 2020 and 2021 academic years.

“They worked hard last year, it was tough. And we know that this year it’ll also be a bit difficult, but not impossible,” she said.

The teachers at that Panama City school “feel very enthusiastic to be at an educational establishment with this kind of (new) infrastructure” that will help with the challenges involved in imparting “quality education and improving student behavior,” the principal added.

Classes began on Monday in the vast majority of both public schools (830,181 students and around 48,000 teachers) and private schools (124,050 students) in Panama.

Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo said around 95 percent of the country’s 3,102 schools were ready to receive students on Monday. The remainder are still undergoing renovations that are expected to be concluded this week.

Renovation work has been carried out at 2,601 educational establishments ahead of the current school year, which will run through December, according to the Education Ministry, which says 407 other refurbishment projects are to be concluded this week.

The primary complaint of teachers unions and parents alike remains the lack of adequate maintenance of school infrastructure, a problem that is particularly acute in indigenous areas.

The Education Ministry said it has already spent $120 million replacing 220 “aulas rancho,” (traditional, open-aired classrooms with dirt floors and dried palm or zinc rooftops) with adequate schoolrooms.

An additional 51 “aulas rancho” are to be replaced at an additional cost of $112 million, a task that involves transporting materials to difficult-to-access indigenous regions and areas.

“Education is a task we all share,” Aguilar said, noting that students need the support of their teachers and parents and that school installations must be well cared for and maintained.

The government also said 437,946 preschool, elementary and middle school students nationwide will benefit this year from the Complimentary School Food Program (PACE), which provides them with healthy snacks and milk to help fortify their nutritional intake. EFE


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