LN – Being a teacher in the village 21-24: teaching with power cuts and little connection

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It is 10:30 in the morning of a winter that seems harsher due to the pandemic. It shows in the streets of the village 21-24 and in the silence of their schools. The Cura Brochero nursery school was stopped in time: the activities of the last day, unfinished; jackets, towels and bags forgotten in the rooms from 1 to 5 years. That image anguishes María Soledad Maldonado (24), a teacher of the youngest, while taking a mate and try to connect to the Internet for a meeting with the others teachers of the institution. There is little signal in his house, but he succeeds. “Something is better than nothing,” he says smiling.

The house has a room, a kitchen-dining room that is now also a classroom and a bathroom. “We juggle,” sums up María Soledad, who lives with her girlfriend and two dogs. By video call they talk about how to follow, who is going to deliver booklets, put together and edit videos, and distribute the food bags. He coronavirus made the challenges of teachers multiply and in vulnerable contexts it became more evident. Work hours no longer count. She, like many other colleagues, lives in the same village, sharing the reality of her students. In addition to doing everything possible to achieve some type of pedagogical continuity, they are those who, together with social organizations, are the bra of families. They know closely how the health crisis caused by the pandemic impacted their neighbors. “The community is counting on us,” emphasizes the teacher and explains that the 90 boys who attended school until March, received breakfast, lunch and a snack.

María Soledad Maldonado is a kindergarten teacher;  every 15 days she connects by Zoom with the boys and girls, when the connection and the light do not fail.
María Soledad Maldonado is a kindergarten teacher; every 15 days she connects by Zoom with the boys and girls, when the connection and the light do not fail. Credit: Santiago Filipuzzi

Accompanying such young children from a distance is difficult. Even more so when their parents have little chance for lack of resources. “We record videos with the activities and upload them to institutional Facebook or send them via WhatsApp,” says María Soledad. That way, when they have the Internet, they usually do the activities. He explains that communication worked very well at the beginning of the quarantine, but then families began to lose their jobs, without data on the phones. “Most of the inhabitants work in a precarious way and in the black,” he explains. Therefore, every 15 days they deliver merchandise and diapers. Also, there are 10 families who do not have a mobile phone and they are given a booklet with the activities for the students.

In a corner of the kitchen-dining room of his house is the desk. He has a computer with the keyboard abused by his fingers. Next to it, photocopies, books, pens, cardboard boxes, crayons, colored papers. It is the material that is used to create activities for the virtual encounters that take place every one or two weeks, in which they chat with the families and for a while with the children. “We ask how the activities went and above all we see the boy or girl for a little while,” he explains.

However, families are not the only ones facing the lack of resources or the digital divide. “Preparing, recording, editing, uploading the activities to Facebook, or sending it to WhatsApp, takes time and effort,” sighs María Soledad. “With the power outages in the neighborhood, it is difficult. I missed the last meetings with the families and with the garden team,” she says as she continues cutting, gluing and putting together some activities with cardboard, newspapers and magazines. “We do everything with recycled material,” he clarifies, “because we don’t have money to buy.”

Outside: bare walls, barking dogs, loud music, damp, cold, damp. Villa 21-24 is in the south of the city of Buenos Aires, 20 minutes from downtown, and they live almost 100,000 inhabitants. Tour their 66 hectares, crossed by labyrinthine corridors with dirt streets dotted by manholes, or strolling along the nauseating bank of the Riachuelo avoiding piles of garbage, reveal one of the biggest problems: the sanitary. Cobwebs of cables dangling everywhere abound, a latent electrical hazard.


In Ángela Rosa Espinola Sánchez’s house (33) no desk, the teacher sits directly at the table in the kitchen-living-dining room. On the red tablecloth she supports the worn notebook, the cell phone, which from time to time runs out of memory, and the computer also has its ailments. “The battery is not working well,” Angela complains. As in the house of María Soledad, there are ups and downs of the Internet connection. Two bedrooms, one bathroom and four people living together. In the hallway, loud music.

“They send us to war with forks and knives. We don’t have the necessary tools to face virtual classes but we manage“Angela says. It is 8 in the morning and she has mates with Rosa, her mother. Between cookies and jams, she reviews the practical work. She is a mathematics teacher at the Nuestra Señora de los Milagros parish institute in Caacupé.

Try to unlock the cell phone, the touch reacts at a snail’s pace. Enter the WhatsApp group: 30 students sending messages. She makes a gesture of clutching her head. “We handle ourselves with texts or by audio. They ask me the questions of the topics or exercises that they did not understand and we clear up the doubts,” he explains.

The kitchen-living-dining room of Angeles' house is now also a classroom;  he teaches Mathematics and has 30 students per course;  most of the inquiries come via WhatsApp.
The kitchen-living-dining room of Angeles’ house is now also a classroom; he teaches Mathematics and has 30 students per course; most of the inquiries come via WhatsApp. Credit: Santiago Filipuzzi

According to the latest report from the Argentine Observatory for Education, 92.2% of urban state primary schools use WhatsApp to propose tasks during the quarantine. The study also highlights that six out of 10 schools use textbooks (62.6%) or booklets and photocopies (61.3%).

“It is true that many cannot connect, but the other reality is that many children go and queue in the dining rooms during class time. So, it has another degree of difficulty. Even so, for now, we keep the whole “adds the teacher, with a proud tone.

As she speaks, Angela becomes more serious. She straightens her hair, puts on her glasses, sits up straight: “We all had to make friends with technology that we have on hand. Many students did not know how to send emails, “he says. Their electronic devices are old and malfunctioning. 11-12 with 1st A. 12-13 with 1st B. 14-15 with 2nd B. All of these They are the exclusive hours of Mathematics. There is no memory that can hold so many images and audio messages. Outside, power outages in several blocks.

He adjusts the chair, bends his back a little, rests his elbows on the table. He answers the WhatsApp according to the case: text, audios or an explanatory video. Around, the noise of her children playing interrupts her. She has 11-year-old twins, Leandro and Azul, who run around the classroom table as best they can. “You try to work when your children are quiet, when they sleep, but it’s impossible!”, Angela says. The sounds from outside are added, plus that of their dogs barking at anything that happens. To concentrate seems to be another challenge. A harp, two guitars, a piano worn by the passage of time, chairs stacked in a corner, are some decorations distributed in the environment. His idea of ​​finishing everything before the afternoon mates cannot be fulfilled: the power goes out. Turns on candles because inside is dark.

“The families of the students who charge the IFE are not thinking of buying a cell phone so that they can connect to the class. They are thinking of buying gas cylinders, eating,” Angela concludes, and the neighborhood teachers agree with her. WhatsApp closes, computer shuts down.

Villa 21-24. The air is fresh, humidity abounds. Mask, alcohol gel, bleach. Distance. Teachers who fight for the education don’t get stuck like schools.

The orange sunset light is lost in the distance and reveals the silhouettes of poles and cables, of water tanks, of houses without plastering. It’s cold, you sit in the corridors, you sit in the boxes without light. It is already night but everything remains the same: power cuts, lack of water, there is no Internet. But there is desire to educate.

More information

  • La Nación Foundation Award for Education: Organized by Fundación La Nación together with Banco Galicia and Osde, it launched its 14th edition with the support of Cimientos, Proyecto Educar 2050, VIACOM-CBS, Fundación Varkey and the University of San Andrés. This year, it seeks to highlight the incessant work of teachers who, during the pandemic, develop innovative pedagogical strategies to ensure the educational continuity of their students in vulnerable contexts. The application is open until October 2, 2020 and only initiatives that have been developed in the context of the pandemic can be submitted. Among the participating schools, three winners will be selected who will receive 300,000 pesos each and, also, three special mentions will be awarded that will receive 100,000 pesos each to invest in the training of the teachers involved and the equipment of the school to facilitate access to the Communication technologies. More information: write to [email protected] or call the cell phone: 11-4915-9533. Terms and conditions.


Publicado en el diario La Nación

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