After more than a year of pandemic and the decision in March 2020 to close all schools -at all levels and throughout the country-, Argentina accumulates more disagreements than impulses to reopen classrooms. Beyond the media debate on school attendance, it is the educational system itself that does not find a consensus on how to act in the face of the demands imposed by the Covid.
As a result, there are now a large number of students – many of them from the province of Buenos Aires – who only had a couple of days of face-to-face classes in more than 14 months. Only 1% of the country’s students (129,200) went to school at some point in 2020, according to a survey made by CIPPEC. Within the enormous shortage, the jurisdictions that most came to open classrooms last year were Mendoza, Jujuy, Misiones, the City of Buenos Aires and some districts of the Province.
There were different moments. In March 2020, the suspension of face-to-face classes came with a great agreement from all political forces and the educational community. There was fear and it was decided to leave all decisions in the hands of the Executive Power, in this case, the Ministry of National Education. By then there were no nuances: it was to close everything, within the framework of a strict quarantine aimed at strengthening the health system.
But time passed, all activities began to become more flexible and schools were left with their doors closed, and with a national Ministry of Education entangled between the fears of many governors and the pressure from teachers’ unions. Progress was only made in the assembly of the protocols, which – of course – were not used.
Horacio Rodríguez Larreta made a difference with the Government by getting the schools in the City to remain open.
Towards September of last year the voices of sectors that demanded a more “objective” guide to action began to be heard loudly. With clear indicators that allow knowing when a jurisdiction can open schools and in what way.
After lengthy negotiations, on October 7 the first “epidemiological traffic light”, quite complex, with the indicators that – combined with each other – determined if a locality has a low, medium or high risk of returning to face-to-face educational meetings. The school year was already ending and very few schools were able to rebuild that link.
This year’s was even more surprising. After a new agreement -now to return to the classrooms-, with the school year just started and the official pledge that schools would be “the last thing to close”In mid-April, the President announced a decree that closed classrooms again.
There he presented a new “epidemiological traffic light”, but this time it arrived without consensus or dialogue. The governors learned of its contents at the very moment of the presidential speech.
And although it all ended in the Supreme Court of Justice, which defined that each jurisdiction has autonomy to make educational decisions, the Nation now insists that the indicators expressed in the last decree must be respected.
The new traffic light simplified the old one a bit. Now, the green, yellow or red light leaves the consideration of only two indicators: one is the quotient between the number of cases accumulated in the last 14 days and the number of cases accumulated in the previous 14 days (what was previously called the R”); and the other is the “incidence” of infections, which is the number of accumulated cases in the last 14 days per 100,000 inhabitants.
Depending on how these two numbers are combined, schools in a locality will have a low, medium, or high risk of opening schools. A subsequent resolution of the Federal Council of Education establishes that with low or medium risk the classrooms can be opened and with high risk it is necessary to limit the presence.
The Minister of Education Nicolás Trotta together with President Alberto Fernández and the Buenos Aires Governor, Axel Kicillof. Photo: Presidency
But it introduces a novelty. Now the traffic light incorporated a stronger red, which they called “epidemiological alarm”, which applies only to large urban agglomerates, departments or parties with more than 300,000 inhabitants. When the indicators give alarm, the jurisdictions should close all classrooms there, without discriminating between educational levels or ages of the students. All closed, and something else.
At the moment, three jurisdictions -Córdoba, Mendoza and Ciudad- do not agree with this criterion and that is why they maintain presence in a good part of their systems, although they are at the “alarm” level of the traffic light. They prioritized presence for the youngest students and with less autonomy for the study.