SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — COVID-19 has devastated many aspects of life in El Salvador from healthcare to education. El Salvador already had a poverty rate of 32% in 2016, years before the pandemic hit. COVID-19 has only continued to hurt the country. The President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, imposed a strict lockdown on the country from May to June. The first phase of reopening started over the summer. The country has experienced a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases since the lockdown ended with more than 36,000 cases and 1,000 deaths. Even so, there are still many strict restrictions on civil conduct. One such restriction is that of in-person education, as many prepare to utilize online education in El Salvador.
Over the summer, COVID-19 restrictions complicated education in the Central American country. Schools are still closed and many are relying on the internet to take their classes. As a result, students and teachers have had to get creative to make online education in El Salvador work during these difficult times.
Public Television and Youtube
El Salvador’s Department of Education launched a Youtube channel called “Aprendemos en Casa.” The channel is part of the El Salvador television transmission on Channel 10. Every day the students are taught different subjects like science, math, literature and social studies. The channel also provides a physical and mental health day to students. Educational programs are good supplemental tools for students, but they are not enough. Therefore, most schools in El Salvador are using the internet to give students lessons and homework assignments, making online education the new normal.
The Ministry of Education Encourages At Home Education
While the Ministry of Education provides a Youtube channel for education, a website offering lessons to students is also available. Lesson curriculums range from preschool to high school and each subject includes a test to verify what students are learning. For students who do not have computers, the website is accessible through mobile phones.
The internet is becoming an increasingly viable option for students because of the availability of service through cheaper options like mobile phones. In 2019, people purchased more than 9 million phone subscriptions in El Salvador. Since roughly 6.5 million people live in El Salvador, the number of subscriptions exceeded population numbers. Phones can be found cheap through second-hand vendors and mobile plans cost around $20 per month.
Private vs. Public Education
El Salvador continues to struggle with wealth inequality. Approximately 44% of the economy is owned by the richest 20%. As such, there is a large gap in the quality of education based on income for Salvadorian students. The limits on the tools necessary for education become more apparent when considering the differences between private and public education.
Diego Flores, a student from the Academia Britannica Cuscatleca, a prestigious private bilingual school, explained his everyday school activities to The Borgen Project. He says, “I usually get up and use my personal computer to log into the school’s own virtual classes, and it is pretty easy.” Unlike other students his age, Diego has wifi and multiple computers in his house. He is also fluent in both Spanish and English. On the other hand, Cesar Ayala goes to the public Instituto Nacional de Nueva Concepción where some of his classmates struggle with the online curriculum. “At least I have a phone,” he says, “but some of my classmates do not have computers or cellular phones to access online classes, so it is hard.”
Technology is a great way to salvage classes from COVID-19, but many residents in El Salvador are not able to adequately access the lessons. Only 33% of Salvadorians had access to broadband internet in 2018. The internet is a much better medium for education than nothing at all, but it is not a perfect solution.
Limited Cellular Service Debilitates Education
The internet is a great tool to help students during COVID-19, but access to it is limited, especially in rural towns. Some students do not have any service and must go to extremes to reach their educational goals. Students in the Atiquizaya municipality have climbed trees to reach service. Missing months of education also has direct consequences for students trying to go to university.
According to a recent study, students in poverty have a greater chance of absences affecting their educational goals in the future compared to students living in better socioeconomic conditions. President Bukele has helped students in various towns gain access to wi-fi and laptops, but it has not been enough. The government needs to provide services everywhere to encourage students to continue their education.
The Ministry of Education’s Goals for 2021
The Ministry of Education in El Salvador has partnered with UNICEF and the Government of Canada to help improve education so all children have access to equal educational opportunities. The program will launch later this year. With Canada’s contributions to El Salvador’s education, the Ministry of Education can amplify their efforts to provide quality instruction outside of the classroom during the pandemic. The programs set forth by the partnership also encourage students to create strong bonds with their families. Despite improvements, the pandemic continues to complicate education for students living in poverty. However, although not a perfect solution, technology is helping to bridge the gap to better online education in El Salvador during these difficult times.
– Sarah Litchney