Teacher and director Horacio Octavio López Hernández tells us about the difficulties faced by the José María Morelos elementary school. Located in the community of Tierra Blanca de Arriba, the school is coping with the new forms of distance learning made necessary by the pandemic. The school typically averages 25 students per group across different grade levels, divided among four teachers who work in afternoon and morning shifts. When the Department of Public Education (SEP) ordered the closure of schools last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, López and his colleagues were forced to change their teaching methods. “The regional delegation with headquarters in Dolores provided the schools with enough materials so that they could work at home and finish the school year,” explained López.
López said that the improvised distance learning program on television caused “disinterest” and “rebellion” in his students. “In addition to asking them to watch classes on television, we gave them additional work, and the children were overloaded.”
There were many challenges with the distance learning approaches implemented in order to complete the previous school year—challenges that to López believes have been addressed for the 2020-2021 school year, which began in August. The new school year brought new TV channels to the distance learning program, which López believes are benefitting the students by providing more coverage.
However, not all families have a television signal to tune into educational programs. “It was difficult for many parents to access programming. The channel was not available at home, so instead, they stuck to just the work and homework booklet,” said López.
Student evaluation methods were also affected by the new learning methods. In some case, for example, parents did the exercises for their children. In the past, teachers evaluated students via individual testing. With the new learning methods, teachers deal with problems through video or phone calls and quick surveys answered by the individual student.
However, the barrier facing both students and teachers in rural schools is the lack of communication technologies. Many parents do not have a mobile phone signal, for example. “Unfortunately, if you don’t have cell phone coverage and must travel to another location to receive a signal, do you think this situation supports the proper education of a child? It is very difficult,” said López.
Primary school teachers faced difficulties in distributing the workbooks and other educational content in the community. They printed the materials to give to the parents, and these were left at a central local at which the parents were notified they could pick it up.
Parents opposed distance learning classes and the use of booklets as teaching support. “The complaints ranged from, ‘I don’t have internet,’ to ‘I don’t understand the teacher; I didn’t go to school.’ They were always looking for the teacher to resolve the situation,” said López.
With the start of the new 2020-2021 school cycle, López says the students and parents are more receptive since “they were better prepared.” Through WhatsApp, teachers, parents, and students can communicate and receive materials for classes. López sends out learning materials daily (as opposed to weekly or biweekly) that follow the school schedule. This is done to avoid overloading students with material.
The response has been more favorable than in the previous cycle, although there are still many things to improve. Even with the technological limitations that rural schools face, López welcomes the use of technology in education. “This has a future, but more needs to be done. The federal government, in conjunction with the states, should work on training for the use of new applications and investment in signal coverage in communities. Technology should not overtake us because if it overtakes us, it is better that we retire. Either we adapt and update ourselves, or we let another teacher take our place. It is very necessary, and it is a very useful tool for students, but it has to be in conjunction with many things,” concluded López.