Lost Year?

Inequality lays bare the gap between private and public schools amid the pandemic

Brazilian students relate difficulties with long distance classes and say it is impossible to learn properly

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | Belém (PA) |
Joaquim stopped keeping up with school after classes were suspended due to the novel coronavirus - Cidália Barbosa/Arquivo Pessoal

Joaquim Barbosa is 10 years old and a fifth grade student in one of the public schools in the Canarinho community, located in the impoverished areas of Belém, the state capital of Pará. Since classes were suspended on March 17th of this year, he has literally been without schooling.

The primary reason is because he does not have high speed internet at home. He is only able to access the virtual world through a cell phone that he shares with this mother.

Joaquim’s story repeats itself in many households in Pará and all over Brazil. According to the National Household Survey (PNAD) carried out in 2018, nearly half of Brazilian homes don’t have a computer, and the internet was accessed almost entirely (98.1%) through mobile phones.

In the state of Pará, the government has made online classes available to students during the pandemic in two ways: via television or over the internet. Joaquim’s mom, Cidália Barbosa, is 44 and works as a cook from 2 to 10 pm.

Cidália admits that a routine that wasn’t easy before, became harder with the pandemic.

She told us that Joaquim’s teacher even scolded her for not keeping up with the materials. However, every time the family tried to tune into the classes, they were unable to.

“We don’t have internet and barely have a phone. On the first day of classes, we couldn’t log on because service was so bad. It’s hard! We can’t understand the lessons, there’s no way for him to learn, no way. It is very complicated,” she expressed.

The mother lives alone with her son and depends on a support network in order to raise him. Joaquim is portrait of the 80% of Brazilian children whose main guardian is a woman. Just like him, 5.5 million other children don’t have a father’s name on their birth certificates.

Cidália says that the education of her son is important to her, since it’s the only path to a better future for both of them. To her, the year 2020 has already been “lost”.

Infrastructure not available to all

32-year-old Ana Carolina Santos, is a primary teacher at a private school in Pará’s capital, Belém. She recounts that even with all the infrastructure provided by the institution where she works, the period has been very complicated, particularly at the outset.

“The biggest difficulty most families are having is drawing the students to study, and most families were working from home. The parents have to divide their attentions between work and their children’s education, adult supervision during this period is of extreme importance for children's education,” she explains.

Edited by: Douglas Matos