The president of Colombia’s largest trade union, the FECODE teachers union, has rejected government plans to reopen Colombian schools after they were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. In an interview with El Espectador, Nelson Alarcón said that conditions remain too dangerous for teachers and students, and that this situtation is likely to continue for the rest of the year. According to FECODE, 155 teachers and close family members have died from COVID-19, while there have been 2,544 cases among teachers.
Below, you can read a full transcript of the interview with Nelson Alarcón (translated by JFC).
Why did you decide not to accept the alternative model proposed by the Ministry of Education?
We have declared ourselves in civil disobedience, away from the workplace, because the necessary biosecurity and infrastructure conditions, the didactic materials, the facilities and the desks that are needed are not in place. The money is not there to make the necessary adjustments. This is an act of defence and health for all. Today, we still have not reached the peak [of coronavirus], which some people say will happen in four or five weeks. We would be irresponsible to risk the lives of children, parents, teachers and staff. For now, we will continue working from home and postpone the return because the conditions are lacking.
In response to the government’s arbitrary, obstinate and irresponsible position to return people to work, FECODE has announced that Monday 3 August will be a day of action in defence of life.
There is a lot of concern about the need to reopen schools, especially for children who require contact to develop their skills.
We share that concern, any of us can catch the virus. Regardless of economic background, the situation is the same for children and adults. More than 57,000 of our teachers are over the age of 60, which means they risk greater difficulty in recovery if they catch COVID-19.
As a union, when would you be willing to return to teaching in schools?
First, the entire curriculum and teaching structure must be transformed within educational institutions, which requires flexibility to guarantee the autonomy of school governance and directors. They would need to determine what adjustments are needed. Today, around $90 billion Colombian pesos (£18.3 million) is required for infrastructure alone.
How many teachers are currently affected by the virus?
Among teachers and family members who care for them, as well as other staff, 155 people have died from COVID-19. With regards to confirmed cases, there are 2,544 to date among teachers and family members. We know that some school authorities forced teachers to go to schools at the beginning of the pandemic to distribute snacks or educational materials.
Do you know how many children and adolescents have not been able to receive classes?
There are difficulties in rural areas, where almost 75 per cent of students cannot access internet to do their work. In urban areas, around 40 per cent are not connected to the internet. Teachers have found creative ways to bring activities to students’ homes. For example, in Magadalena there are teaching messengers who collect materials from the teacher’s home and take them to children to do their activities and workshops. They then take them back to the teacher for review.
What is the outlook for reopening schools this year?
For us, it’s about what is happening with deaths and trends, the pandemic is advancing with test results delayed by around 12 to 15 days. We think it will be impossible to return to physical classes this year. That’s why we demand conditions and guarantees to develop learning processes. We have proposed that the Ministry of Education instigate a policy of universal free internet coverage so that students can continue developing their studies.