The 2020-21 school year looks set to be like no other as the coronavirus pandemic forces state governments to rethink how education will be delivered to their young residents.
The governments of some states have announced plans to start the new school year with students attending virtual classes but pupils and parents in about half of the country’s 32 entities currently have no idea when learning, either online or in person, will recommence.
In Guerrero, state authorities have announced that primary and middle school students will commence the new school year on August 10 via online classes. However, admission exams for public high schools and teacher training colleges have been postponed until September.
Primary school students in Veracruz will also start virtual classes on August 10 but middle school and high school students will not join their classmates online until September 21.
In Tamaulipas, virtual classes are tentatively slated to commence on August 31. Students in rural areas where internet service is non-existent or unreliable will have the opportunity to study via an educational radio service.
Authorities in Jalisco have said that classes for primary school students will begin on August 17 but they have not yet announced whether they will be held in classrooms or online.
Students in Sinaloa will log into digital classrooms from August 31 while virtual classes are slated to begin in Querétaro and Chihuahua on September 7.
Education authorities in Querétaro are aiming for students to return to their bricks and mortar schools in October but said they will ultimately follow the advice of the federal government.
Among the states where authorities have not yet announced when and/or how the new school year will start are Baja California Sur, Colima, Nayarit, San Luis Potosí, Oaxaca, Yucatán, Michoacán, Puebla, Nuevo León, Quintana Roo, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, Chiapas, México state and Zacatecas.
According to the newspaper Milenio, the governments of those states have decided to wait for an announcement from the federal Ministry of Public Education next Monday before deciding when the new school year will start, and in some cases whether students will attend online or face-to-face classes.
However, most if not all states are expected to commence the new school year with virtual classes before reopening schools once the coronavirus risk diminishes.
Meanwhile, a large number of private schools may never reopen due to financial problems related to the pandemic and associated economic restrictions.
According to estimates by the National Private Schools Association, 25% of more than 48,000 private schools across the country are facing financial difficulties because parents have stopped paying their children’s tuition fees.
As many as 12,000 schools may not be in a position to reopen or even offer online classes, said association president Alfredo Villar Jiménez. He explained that the figure is subject to change depending on the quantity of money schools are able to collect via fees paid before the start of the school year.
Some parents who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic have been forced to remove their children from private schools and seek places for them in public schools instead.
Guanajuato Education Minister Yoloxóchitl Bustamante said at a recent forum that as the number of parents who cannot pay tuition grows – millions of Mexicans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic – the number of private schools that are forced to close will increase.
A significant problem will arise because public schools cannot reject the enrollment of new students but at the same time they don’t have enough space to accept them, she said.
Bustamante said a solution is urgently needed but charged that federal authorities have not yet come up with one.
She added that if schools are to reopen in a “new normal mode,” in which students are required to keep their distance from each other, classroom numbers will have to be reduced by at least half their normal level.
“If we’re going to have extra students from private schools, the only [solution] will be to have more classrooms and teachers, for which there is no budget.”