Things That Matter

It’s Back To School Season In Mexico And Kids Are Being Asked To Turn On The TV

Thanks to the Coronavirus, many families morning routines are totally out of whack. And that’s becoming ever more apparent as back to school season ramps up and parents are having to play teacher and principal and counselor while also maintaining their work/home lives.

Mexico – which among the many countries that have cancelled in-person learning for this school year – is betting on TV and radio to deliver an education to all students. However, the burden is already being felt by parents who are turning to neighbors and abuelos for help.

Mexico has said no to in-person learning thanks to the Coronavirus but they’re trying to come up with solutions.

Mexico’s government has decided against in-person classes this year, deeming the Coronavirus too big a threat. Therefore, the country’s 30 million students will all be forced to learn remotely, usually from their own homes with family helping out as impromptu instructors.

Officials say the Coronavirus – which has killed more than 60,000 Mexicans amid the nearly 600,000 confirmed cases – is far too dangerous to allow kids back into the classroom.

One student told CNN that “It’s good we’re still having class. But I’m sad because I was going to start high school and meet new people.”

At home learning is tough even in well-developed countries. But in places like Mexico, where only 56% of households have Internet access and many students live in rural, poorly equipped Indigenous villages, it’s a monumental task. So if the law requires all Mexican kids to be offered a public education, the government has decided the best way to do that is over the airwaves, with 93% of households having a television.

In the meantime, the burden on parents, already high during any normal school year, will dramatically increase this year. If kids are going to make progress, parents in the home will be the primary driving force.

Teachers are becoming part-time actors as the government enlists there help to educate the country’s 30 million students.

Credit: Marcos Ugarte / Getty Images

Many of the country’s teachers have been called upon to join the growing ranks of online teachers. In TV studios across Mexico City, teachers are being dressed and having makeup put on for their on-camera closeups.

For many, it’s a big change. Teachers often develop close relationships with their students – they’re used to setting up their classrooms, hugging kids on their first day of school, and knowing about their interests, passions, and areas that need more focus.

Inside a brightly lit studio at Mexico City TV station Channel 11 last week, fifth grade teacher Omar Morales squinted as a young man with bright purple hair applied makeup to his face. Omar Morales told CNN, that “It’s challenging. It’s no longer 40 kids in a class where I know their names, passions, their favorite games. Here, I’m locked in a set, but I know there’s millions of kids out there who still need that knowledge.”

Morales is part of an ambitious government plan to record a comprehensive set of lessons for all grade levels pre-K through high school and then broadcast them on TV. It has worked out agreements with different TV channels to broadcast that content, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, with different grade levels at different hours.

The curriculum the government is sharing over the airwaves is meant to mirror that taught in public schools had they not been forced to close thanks to the pandemic. Music class and physical secrecies is also included in the televised offering, with gold-medal-winning diver Rommel Pacheco encouraging children to stretch.

The government has turned to TV and radio to help make sure the education gap doesn’t grow wider amid the pandemic.

Mexico already suffered from an extreme education gap – meaning that rich kids often received a far better education than poor kids, who were also often from rural or Indigenous communities. This was a major problem long before the pandemic.

For example, relatively wealthy Mexico City saw a 92% secondary, or high-school level, education enrollment rate as of 2019. In the much poorer state of Chiapas, that rate stood at only 59%.

But experts fear that the pandemic could greatly exacerbate the issue – and many acknowledge that TV and radio can’t solve underlying inequalities in the education system. You don’t need to be an education expert to conclude that wealthier students with internet access and the ability to interact with a teacher, even remotely, might fare better than those who get their classes the same way they watch cartoons.

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