Sarah DeVries
student and computer The new normal in education.

Classes are set to resume but many children will be left out

Supporting kids in distance learning at home will be difficult for families that are struggling

My daughter is starting first grade this year.

Well, kind of.

Public schools in Mexico are currently beginning to impart at least a fraction of the education they otherwise would to their students through educational public television programming.

As Jack Gooderidge wrote a few weeks ago, it’s a good enough effort in our current pinch, but not sustainable or likely impactful long-term. Especially at the lower levels, the purpose of school is just as much about learning to get along with other human beings as it is about learning to read and write.

Private schools, meanwhile, are trying to avoid bankruptcy as scores of families stop paying as a result of their own drastic decreases in income. Others have stopped simply because it doesn’t make economic sense to continue paying for a service that, by definition, cannot be given even close to the extent it’s intended to be. Thirty percent of private school students from last year have simply not re-enrolled, and 25% of private schools are at risk of closing permanently.

So far my daughter has had one day of class (there were apparently technical difficulties on the second day). Today will be the third day, and my first day “at school” with her since she was with her dad the previous two.

I’m a little worried about how it’s going to work. She’ll have around three hours a day of video-conferencing classes, and from what I can tell, either I or her father will need to be there actively participating for most of it.

We also need to get things set up each day: supplies must be bought or gathered and organized (and there are a lot of supplies — it’s first grade, after all); our own schedules must be cleared during that time.

The tablet we bought a few years ago is apparently not up for the job, which means she’ll need to be, when she’s with me, on my computer until we can find or afford another solution. As you know, I work as a writer and translator, and am also in the process of launching a new business. I need my computer, especially when she can be busy with something else for a few minutes.

On top of it, we’re paying the regular full price for her education even though we’ll mostly be imparting it to her in our respective homes while also trying to maintain our regular jobs. Weve both been lucky enough to keep doing our jobs from home, but how does one both work and serve as elementary school teacher at the same time?

While she’s enrolled now in an excellent school, it’s new to all of us: we signed her up for it back in February when it was clear that her current school had every intention of continuing to raise already-high prices each year — now it feels like that happened in another world!

(The decision to move her came after the director said to me, in the most polite way possible of course, that if I was not OK with the price hikes, then I was welcome to send her somewhere else as there was a long line of families waiting to enroll their children in her place. Is it petty to feel a sense of cosmic justice at this point?)

The above are fairly bourgeoise problems. Many families are facing the exact same issues as we are, so at the very least we have the comfort of not being alone in our struggles. A lot of families, too, are facing far greater problems. Knowing that ours pale in comparison to those of many others keeps us from whining too much, because even though the situation is far less than ideal, at least we’ve got these expensive, inconvenient options.

Many families simply do not, and will slip through the cracks to join the crowd that was struggling with all their might to get their basic needs met even before the pandemic started. Forget education: they need food and safe housing. While valiant efforts are being made by inventive and selfless volunteers to serve this population, many children will simply continue to go without.

It’s hard, in general, to be selfless and generous when you’re struggling, and even those who’ve managed to weather the economic fall-out are likely struggling mentally and emotionally, not an ideal state of mind for being available for rescuing anyone.

In the end, I’m not too worried about my own daughter’s specific situation, other than the general sadness of her not being able to socialize and play with other kids. I worked as a teacher for many years and feel confident in my ability to educate her myself if need be, SEP paperwork or not. I’ve always had the possibility of homeschooling stored away in the back of my mind anyway, as I’d like us to be able to travel in the future without worrying too much about an official school year calendar. They’re simply not the circumstances I was imagining.

These are hard times. None of us knows when all of this will end, nor what things will look like when it finally does. What exactly, and how will we rebuild? In those moments between sighing heavily and pinching the bridge of our noses while we squeeze our eyes shut, when we can let got for a bit and think of creative solutions, let’s not forget to write them down. We’ll need all the ideas we can get.

Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.

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