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Uncertainty, anger and desire to “talk less about the pandemic and more about education” in the return to school

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More than eight million students will return to the classrooms of schools and institutes as of this Monday. The uncertainty about the health evolution remains and the cuts in covid reinforcement teachers generate a strong malaise in the territories that have announced them, such as Madrid and Andalusia. But teachers and families convey at the same time the desire to focus this year on academic issues, recover school practices abandoned because of the virus, concentrate efforts on students who have been left behind and ensure presence. “It will not be the same again,” says Idoia Pujana, director of the Botikazar institute in Bilbao, “but we think it is time to talk less about a pandemic and more about education.” “The people,” adds Myriam Fuentes, head of the Antoni Maura institute in Palma, “really want to be normal. That is, to do things ”.

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Both directors – like the other dozen representatives of the educational community interviewed for this report – admit that the virus’s ability to derail plans could destroy their hopes in a few weeks. Teachers are confident in the effects of vaccination, especially in secondary school, where it is estimated that almost all students will be immunized in a short time. But, at the same time, the impact of the more infectious delta variant of the virus is unknown, because its spread occurred after the end of last year. In this context, teachers such as Julián Esteban, director of the Gonzalo Torrente Ballester institute in San Sebastián de los Reyes (Madrid), and representatives of parents, such as Rogelio Carballo, president of the confederation of parents’ associations in Galicia, express their concern about the The fact that the general health protocol approved by the Government and the autonomous communities allows increasing the number of students per class (by raising the ratio in children from 20 to 25 students and reducing the interpersonal distance in secondary from 1.5 meters to 1, 2).

The consequences of virus mutations are anyone’s guess. But there is some evidence regarding the modifications introduced in the health protocol of educational centers. Due to the autonomy that the communities have when it comes to applying the state protocol (which has functioned more as a guide of recommendations, since the last word has been and will be had again by the regional health and educational authorities in their respective territories ), the novelties experienced by the general norm this course were already in force in the past in some communities, without substantial differences in the infections between communities.

In many Basque institutes, such as that of Idoia Pujana, there were already high school classes last year with 30 students seated at a distance closer to 1.2 meters, as now contemplated in the basic health protocol of the Government for all of Spain (last year , the general recommendation was 1.5 meters minimum). Numerous secondary schools also welcomed all their students on a daily basis: it happened in those of entire autonomies (such as Euskadi, Galicia, Castilla y León, and Extremadura) and in numerous institutes in other territories, such as the center that Myriam Fuentes directs in Palma, where a thousand people met every day without any special problems (the center did not have to confine any complete classroom, and as far as its manager knows, the few students and teachers who were infected throughout the course did so outside school environment).

In autonomous schools such as the Valencian Community, bubble groups of 25 students functioned in primary school (which is the limit that practically all regions will apply this year), and in many Andalusian schools, such as the one that Javier Delgado directs in Seville, there were also 25 children in nursery classes. And neither in one case nor in another was the level of contagion especially high compared to the rest of the autonomous communities.

Worse quality

Another thing is that, as stated by Delgado, president of the Andalusian association of directors of public schools, thanks to the two covid support teachers (for a center of 385 students) with whom he counted last year, he was able to offer reinforcement to the kids with more difficulties and telematically attend to those who had to remain confined at home. In other words, the school was able to provide better educational attention than it will be able to offer this year, when it will not have any extra support. The quality of teaching will also be lowered in the public institute of which Julián Esteban is director in Madrid: the reinforcements will go from the eight with which he began last year (and which in January were reduced to six), to “2 , 66, because the third teacher will not be at the center full time ”, says the teacher.

The professor and president of the Majorcan AMPA federation Albert Llop, in front of the Rafal Vell school, in Palma de Mallorca.
The professor and president of the Majorcan AMPA federation Albert Llop, in front of the Rafal Vell school, in Palma de Mallorca.FRANCISCO UBILLA

The withdrawal of reinforcements, the interviewees agree, is premature because the educational damage caused by the pandemic has not yet been repaired. Now, for example, there are more children who reach the third grade of primary school without having consolidated their literacy skills. And María Quintana, president of the directors of public institutes in Castilla y León, assures that they are also detecting more problems in secondary school: “There are students, especially those who come from environments with more difficulties, who still carry the consequences of general confinement, to which must be added the quarantines that took place last year. That is where we are going to put the recovery effort in this course, in trying to put everyone on the same level ”.

Presence, a red line

In the 11 autonomies where the reinforcements of teachers are maintained or increased (at the moment, only four reductions have been announced: Madrid, Andalusia, Murcia and Aragon, while Catalonia and La Rioja have not yet presented their plans), the attention of the community Educativa focuses, in addition to the health aspect, on other issues. The main one, guaranteeing presence, as Albert Llop, president of the federation of mothers and fathers of Mallorca and professor of Philosophy in secondary school explains: “For us it is a red line. Blendedness has been very damaging for students, not only academically, but also personally and socially. Knowing what we already know, we must guarantee presence with everything possible. One of our historical demands is the elimination of prefabricated classrooms, that is, barracks. But if this course a center needs them so that they can all fit, we are in favor ”.

Many centers hope to recover spaces during this school year, such as gyms, libraries, drawing and computer classes, which a year ago they had to convert into classrooms to meet the lower student-group ratios. And also to resume pedagogical initiatives that they were forced to give up due to the pandemic. At the Idoia Pujana institute in Bilbao, they plan to resume the exchange of teachers with Germany and Denmark. At Myriam Fuentes’s, in Palma, the entrance of a second reinforcement teacher into the classroom. In that of Juan Luis García, president of the directors of public institutes of Castilla-La Mancha, the outings and support classes in the afternoons. And the student Àngela Cardona, who is going to start high school first at the Ausiàs March institute in Gandía (Valencia), would like to have classes again in which theater was used to learn Spanish, Valencian and English.

The success of the school in containing the virus last year and the advance of vaccination have instilled a moderate optimism (time will tell if justified) in a large part of the educational community. A state of mind that means that in the first days of the course many cloisters are talking more about educational issues, such as the development of the new teaching law, the Lomloe, than health. And that, as Sergio de la Fe, president of the confederation of associations of mothers and fathers of the Canary Islands, comments, it begins to seem possible to put back on the table, little by little, debates “that the pandemic had stolen, such as the improvement of infrastructures and teacher training ”.

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