FIRST IN THE REGION TO RESUME FACE-TO-FACE EDUCATION
Students in Uruguay returned to the classroom in June, following a three-stage schedule and with voluntary assistance.
"We have very important support from the Uruguayan scientists, who drew up a protocol that was discussed," said President Luis Lacalle Pou when he made the announcement at a press conference at the end of May and after meeting with the COVID-19 advisory committee that he set up to resolve this type of issue.
The advance of the disease in the world and the first cases in Uruguay motivated the government to suspend activities in the country's educational centers, a preventive measure taken in several nations around the world to curb the pandemic. However, education remained active at all levels through digital mechanisms, especially in primary and secondary public education, thanks to Plan Ceibal (Program One Laptop per Child).
This pioneering initiative of the One Laptop per Child program, which the country launched in 2007, enabled Uruguay to become the first in the world to provide laptops to each and every child and teacher in all primary and secondary schools in the public sector. Access to technology and knowledge has become universal and the digital divide has been significantly reduced, with the gap between the poorest and richest households narrowing from 35 per cent to 8 per cent in 10 years.
The virtual initiative made it easier for a good portion of students to stay in touch with their teachers and to access math and English platforms, among others. The educational community has platforms such as CREA, a social network through which teachers and students can communicate and share study materials; Matific, a mathematics platform; and Biblioteca País, which has more than 7,000 study and recreational books in text, audio and image formats.
Now, thanks to the results of good management of the pandemic, face-to-face classes have resumed and the country has once again demonstrated its pioneering nature. The return is not mandatory and is being deployed in stages. First, on 1 June, students from rural schools throughout the country, except in Montevideo and its metropolitan area, returned to the classroom.
The phased return ends on 29 June when students not included in the previous stages will return to the classrooms.
The educational days will last less than four hours a day and will divide the groups into two in order to maintain physical distance. These steps will continue to be accompanied by virtual classes at home on the days when the children do not have face-to-face assistance.
The protocol also requires ventilation, hand washing, the use of alcohol gel and disinfection of spaces and materials, as well as the use of obligatory mouthpieces in secondary education.
"We are taking this step because the risk is minimal, otherwise we would not be taking it," said President Lacalle Pou, who also stressed that in no case will the level of requirements for passing the course be lowered.