Caribbean Public Education Systems Adrift Due to the Coronavirus

Within days from each other, public education systems in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Cuba suspended classes in schools in March this year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. With no time, tools or defined public policies to lay down strategies that would somehow ensure and measure student participation and progress, distance learning had predictable results. The structural deficiencies of the education systems, the social inequality experienced by students and teachers, the digital gap, and the absence of processes for the participation of school communities in the design of educational plans, are unsolved dilemmas for back to school, amid the latent threat of COVID-19. “We hardly learned anything,” said a 13-year-old Puerto Rican student about the abrupt change in his learning process since classes were suspended. Another young boy, 14, recalled how difficult it was to adopt a study routine with his younger sister and mother: “I’m a Special Education student and we’re used to a certain pace and support.”

Sin rumbo los sistemas de educación pública en el Caribe ante el coronavirus

Las deficiencias estructurales de los sistemas de enseñanza, la desigualdad social entre estudiantes y maestros, la brecha digital y la ausencia de procesos que integraran a las comunidades escolares en el diseño de los planes educativos, son dilemas no resueltos de cara al regreso a clases, sin que la amenaza de contagio por COVID-19 se haya disipado.

Unsuitable 23% of Shelters Listed by the Government of Puerto Rico for the Hurricane Season

Twenty three percent of the buildings on the list of shelters that the Department of Housing released for the 2020 hurricane season are schools with structural damage due to the earthquakes occurred in the southern part of Puerto Rico about six months ago. Since the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) warned a week ago that, in the southern region alone, that list includes 14 schools with damages classified as “unsuitable or partially unsuitable,” the agency have not revised the document, despite the fact that the hurricane season is underway. Of the 319 shelters that the Government identified a week ago, 73 are schools damaged from the earthquakes that require repair or shutting down areas, or the damage is so severe that they must close permanently, according to engineers hired by the Department of Education (DE, in Spanish) that inspected them. In addition to the 14 schools in the south, another 59 school shelters were classified “unsuitable” (red) or “partially suitable” (yellow) are located in 64 municipalities in Puerto Rico. Hormigueros, Aguada, Rincón and Manatí would have to cast off shelters whose schools were classified red.

Parents of Public School Students Demand Access to Food Distribution

The testimonies of dozens of families with students in Puerto Rico’s public school system who need to be fed during the curfew established to control the spread of COVID-19 exposed by organizations that work with children and communities, have not been enough to convince the Department of Education to open school cafeterias to prepare balanced meals for carry-out. Organizations such as the Red por los Derechos de la Niñez y la Juventud en Puerto Rico and the Instituto Nueva Escuela (INE, in Spanish) have documented this population’s point of view. The INE survey, in which 2,700 families of children in the public Montessori system participated, showed that 68% are concerned about providing food for their children and 56% said they would use the school cafeteria if it were available. In addition, 4% of Montessori school teachers assistants confirmed they knew cases where a student or their family could experience food shortages due to this emergency. Rosalyn Hernández, community leader of the Playita sector in San Juan, confirmed this concern in a video were the mother of a 16-year-old and a six-month-old baby said, “the hardest part of this situation is that you run out of food and you can’t go out (because of the curfew), you can’t work.