“If the school year is going to be lost, then lose it”, the reality of thousands of Nica children in the face of COVID-19

The Nicaraguan government has been harshly criticized internationally  for its lack of response to COVID-19, including not implementing social distancing measures. Keeping  schools open is one example of them. On May 25 the Government released a White Paper associating criticism of its COVID-19 response  to attempts of “coup supporters” to destabilize the economy.  This article gives a glimpse into the impact of the virus on the educational system, and the decisions that parents are facing in light of the virus and government policy.

“If the school year is going to be lost, then lose it”, the reality of thousands of Nica children in the face of COVID-19

By Ana Cruz in La Prense, May 24, 2020

[original article]

Losing the right to education or taking the risk that your children be infected with COVID-19. This is the dilemma that parents face in light of the decision of the Ministry of Education to continue classes in spite of the fact that the pandemic is in the phase of exponential expansion.

For some people the home has been turned into a school, while others are already resigned to repeating the school year, because the Ministry of Education decided not to suspend classes for public schools, which is why many students had to quit attending classes to avoid being infected with COVID-19.

He is just a five year old boy, and he was beginning to get used to getting up early, doing homework, having a teacher and classmates, but now he asks, why am I not going to school? Tania Muñoz, former political prisoner from Masaya and an opponent to the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, told La Prensa that for more than a month one of her grandsons, “the youngest”, had to quit school to ensure his health.

Muñoz explained that, after the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Nicaragua in March 2020, she began to talk to her daughters and sons that were still going to class, so that they would quit going or quit sending her grandchildren.

One of the youngest grandchildren of Muñoz quit going to class in the Benito Juárez Public School, where he was in third level of preschool, because his relatives said that “they were not giving us options there to continue classes from home.”

The former political prisoner stated that, when she spoke with her daughter, she told her that she did not want “to be bitterly crying over the death of one of her grandkids just so he wouldn´t lose a year of school. I told her that if the boy was going to lose the year, let him lose it, but we are not going to expose him to being infected” with COVID-19.

Now, in the afternoon and sometimes into the evening, the Muñoz home is turned into “the school”, because her grandchildren and children work on studying the guides that they receive from the private schools where they go, while the youngest who was pulled out of the public school works on coloring and getting to know numbers and letters, until he can safely return to school.

Without options

The situation of Muñoz´s grandson is not unique in Nicaragua. According to statistics offered by the Vice President of the Ortega regime, Rosario Murillo, at the beginning of the school year there were a total of 1,800,000 students in different schools in the country.

According to Murillo, in preschool the registration was 280,558 children. In primary school, 890,932 children, including distance primary school in the countryside, while there were 390,569 students registered in secondary school, including distance secondary school in the countryside.

The presidential advisor on educational issues, Salvador Vanegas, in an interview on Channel 10 at the end of April 2020, after more than 3 weeks of the announcement of the first COVID-19 case in the country, recognized that 50% of the students in “the more urban” public schools quit going to school.

“The fall in attendance varies from one municipality to another. In more urban municipalities like Managua, absenteeism was larger. The farther the schools are from the urban areas the more they are operating practically with normal attendance of between 88-92%. In the more urban schools, it has dropped to approximately 50%”, said Vanegas.

Juana Palacios, who had one of her sons studying in a public school in the capital, recognized that certainly part of that percentage of absenteeism was due to the absences of her son, because she says that since the report of the first case of COVID-19 in the country, she began to send him in a staggered way, and protected with a mask.

The son of Palacios is 14 years-old and was in the third year of high school in a school in the capital. His mother states that she sent him in a staggered way at least for a week and a half with the hope that the Ministry of Education “would do something.” The mother was hoping, at least, that they would allow her son to receive guides from his teachers once a week, but that they would not make him be exposed. Nevertheless, that did not happen, and she decided to quit sending him.

The third-year students in addition informed his mother that, during those days that he had to attend in a staggered way, he noticed that only between 8-10 of his classmates were showing up, when in his section there are more than 20 students.

Palacios recognized that even though classes were not suspended, they decided to put a sink for hand washing at the principal entrance to the school, but she thinks that this “was not enough.”

The mother tried to talk with the teachers and reach an agreement, so that her son would not quit exercising his right to education, but it was not possible because the order was clear, they had to keep attending classes.

“I spoke with the teachers, I told him that I was going to quit sending him because of the situation, and he said to me that I should do what I thought was helpful”, commented the mother of the secondary student.

Now the adolescent passes the time closed up at home and from time to time – on learning about the topics that are being taught in the school – works on reviewing them with the help of his older sister, but not always, because the teachers are not providing guides to the children who withdrew out of fear of infection from COVID-19.

“I cannot expose him. If he has to lose the school year, let him lose it, because here we are only in the hands of God,” said the mother of the student.

The family of Palacios survives on a minimum salary, and the contribution that now her older daughter provides, who is now working, nevertheless, this is not enough to put the adolescent in a private school, which is why they have the hope that – once the pandemic passes or they can control it – the student can return to classes in a public school and with all the assurances of safety for his health.

Up to now according to the government in Nicaragua a total of 279 positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported, 17 have died, 199 have recovered and the rest are active cases.

They violate the right to education

The high number of absences in public schools, according to experts on educational issues, could have been avoided if the Ministry of Education would have complied with its task of providing options to the student community to continue safely exercising their right to education.

Ernesto Medina, the president of the Eduquemos Forum, stated that the first thing that the authorities of the country had to have was the “political will to help the poorest find a solution, and unfortunately so far we have not seen this, because they have not suspended classes and are not providing an alternative to those who report that they are going to quit sending their children to protect them from COVID-19.”

The expert stated that it is critical that the authorities “seek out a humane solution, because the solution cannot be to expose some children to the danger or threaten them with losing the school year for defending the right to life.”

On his part, Jorge Mendoza, the Director of the Forum on Education and Human Development, recalled that in times of emergencies “the creation of alternative programs is justifiable,  they should even be already prepared,” which is why he states that for all those children who have not gone to school because their parents want to protect their right to life, it is critical that MINED ensure they have safe access, with options that would reassure their parents and not allow that the younger ones lose the school year.

In addition, he recommended that the Ministry of Education “suspend classes immediately” and adopt measures that would be adapted to the economic reality of the students and the capacities of the teachers.

The experts agree that MINED, in the case that it would decide to suspend in person classes, should consider the use of means like television, radio or cell phones themselves to teach “essential content”, and in this way the students might be able to continue learning from home and exposing themselves to less risk of contracting COVID-19.

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