Though they are among the ten states with the highest number of novel coronavirus deaths, São Paulo, Rio de Janeir, Pernambuco, Minas Gerais, Pará, Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná have decided to reopen their schools this month.
In a general sense, this resumption is happening gradually and relies on a series of health measures such as social distancing, priority of movement in open, public spaces, and the mandatory use of masks by students, teachers and other employees.
Though the other 15 states, as well as the Federal District continue with no set date for a return to in person classes, though partial, the current resumption is reason for concern among teachers.
Catarina de Almeida Santos, who is part of the National Campaign for the Right to Education, affirms that the movement will only agree to a return to classes when it is safe, be it due to the pandemic being under control or mass immunization, alongside a guarantee that health protocols will be strictly followed.
“The current scenario is worse than when classes were suspended. If when we suspended classes things were in better shape, then there is no sense in resuming classes. If the scenario hasn’t changed, we have no vaccine, there is no sense in putting people’s lives at risk”, defends Santos
The novel coronavirus pandemic has also laid bare the educational inequities in Brazil. Beyond the disparity between the public and private systems when it comes to accessing remote classes, the infrastructure available to prevent the spread of the disease, is further evidence of this social chasm.
While 17 states have authorized a return to classes in the private sector, where there will be an abundance of hand sanitizer and masks, the public school system doesn’t even have universal access to water.
This means that the most basic sanitary recommendation to combat the coronavirus, is not a possibility for thousands of students. The National School Census of 2019, points to 10685 pupils with no access to potable water in the country’s public school system.
Denise Romano, coordinator of the Unified Education Professionals’ Union in the state of Minas Gerais, affirms that a return to in person learning tramples the evident lack of infrastructure availabe. She highlights that preliminary data from the 2020 National School Census shows that in 1114 public schools in the state, employees and students share bathrooms, and that 940 of them have no cafeterias.
Furthermore, she criticizes plans for returning to school of following the same logic as the commercial reopening plans implemented by the state of Minas Gerais.
“These protocls are impossible to be followed in public schools. Whoever came up with these isn’t familiar with the reality of 853 municipalities in Minas Gerais where kids don’t even have places at school where they may eat”, says the teacher.
“A strike for life”
In protest against a return to classes for high school seniors, which were due to resume at the start of next week, teachers’ unions in Rio de Janeiro decided to continue striking after an assembly held this past Saturday, October 10th.
The so called “strike for life”, defends keeping learning remote for the sake of public health.
“The pandemic isn’t over. Oversight entities and experts on the matter aren’t even being consulted. We have no medical report authorizing us to return to school. Unfortunately, none of these schools have undertaken any planning, enacted any changes structurally, so as to create safe spaces for education professionals”, laments Dorothea Frota Santana, director of the Education Professionals’ State Union in Rio de Janeiro.
The absence of contact tracing among students’ families, the lack of testing and sim cards that give internet access to students in the public system, make the situation even more precarious during this pandemic. Out of 2.8 thousand students registered at her school, only 680 have been able to keep up with the online learning activities.
In Santana’s view, a resumption of in person classes needs to take into account the reality on the ground, especially in poorer areas. For example, in the Curicica neighborhood, where classes are set to resume, there are high levels of contagion among the population, most of whom work in the informal sector and are not able to socially distance.
Health at risk
In the opinio of Catarina de Almeida Santos, from the National Campaign for the Right to Education, the restart of in person activities at this moment is evidence of the little importance teachers are given within the public education system.
“They treat us more like dead weight rather than as essential in the process of educating students. These people are going to work in a hostile environment, no one can learn in an environment like that”, she points out.
After seven months away from school, she believes that social distancing among students and teachers will be an impossible task.
“Imagine returning to a school where students have been away for seven months, they will have questions, difficulties, how are we to not get close to them? They will be returning to school from environments where maybe violence occurred, how are we to not help them? How will we guide them without getting close to them?”, she questions.
On the other hand, she does endorse the notion that rebuilding the educational system is possible, even in the face of such adverse circumstances, “as long as education is taken seriously”.
Edited by: Rodrigo Chagas
Fonte: Agência Brasil