By Natalie Taylor
The pandemic is not yet under control, but the school year is starting in the Northern Hemisphere. Numerous discussions are underway as to how best to do it. In the United States, distance learning may entail a lot of online homework, but how does this work in Mexico? Here’s how one school is dealing with the issue.
Tania Ortiz Blanco is a teacher in the little community of Salitrillo, some 20 minutes outside San Miguel de Allende. The school has two classrooms, a library-cum-activity center, a small kitchen annex, and an outdoor lunchroom. The two classrooms host multiple grades—first through third in one and fourth through sixth in the other—taught by two teachers with around 30 students in each classroom. Tania teaches the lower grades.
The children of this rural community have limited connectivity resources—very few own a laptop so their only internet connection is through a phone. However, these services cost money and that’s problematic. Tania said that in Mexico City or even in San Miguel, children have greater access to the internet and the teaching can be more extensive and follow a more structured curriculum. The Salitrillo School has several computers, but internet service has been deactivated since no one can use the building at this time.
When school started on August 24 it will all be distance learning, the same as it was prior to vacation. The teacher prepares a series of 15-day projects and volunteer mothers distribute printouts of the projects to all the students. One of the projects, for example, was to create a recipe book. That meant listing the ingredients and providing cooking instructions. It also called for preparing each recipe and reporting on the results. Another was a cancionero, a book compiling favorite songs and lyrics. A math project asked the students to build a tienda, a store with a list of products and prices, and then “sell” those products to family members with fake currency they created. For each project, the children take photos of the results and send them to the teacher. She then compiles all of it in a folder.
The distance-learning program intended to get the parents involved, and Tania said their response has been overwhelming. As for herself, she finds that she has more work than before. Since there is no schedule, photos and messages dribble in at odd hours—a mother could call at 9 p.m. to ask for some clarification or to report on a student. Tania also has to spend time on online meetings with other teachers and school officials. All of this she does with her cell phone; she does not have a laptop.
With the limited resources of both teachers and students, this seems the best Tania can do at this time. What she and other rural teachers lack in equipment, they supplement with creativity and a focus on the practical rather than on an academic curriculum. More than ever, home-based learning highlights the critical importance of parent involvement.