How is Chile facing the COVID19 education emergency? UNESCO talks with Raul Figueroa, Minister of Education of Chile

At a moment when more than 1.5 billion students are out of school because of the COVID-19 emergency, countries face an unprecedented scenario:  schools closed, families facing uncertain futures, and children and adolescents coping with disrupted routines and educational processes.  Beyond the lack of classes, the disconnection with classmates, professors and the social fabric of the educational community affects all students.   

Consequences that go beyond the curriculum and learning outcomes are challenging education systems in scenarios in unexpected ways.  The same is happening in high, middle and lower income countries.  Within their local contexts, governments are seeking to offer options in the face of the emergency through initiatives aimed at various socioeconomic, geographic and technological realities.  Difficult access to equipment, appropriate information and educational resources translates into enormous challenges, as do issues related to emotional support.   

UNESCO spoke with Raúl Figueroa, Chile´s Minister of Education, who, along with his peers in Latin America and the Caribbean is working to offer solutions that protect the right to education during the emergency, and to prepare for the re-opening of schools. 

Following the complete suspension of classes in March, we made the platform Aprendo en línea available to the educational community, which has resources for students from 1st grade through the final year of secondary level
Raúl Figueroa, Chile´s Minister of Education

Minister, how has the Chilean educational system responded to the arrival of the virus? What measures have been taken?  How are families being supported in this context? 

The Government started developing an Action Plan in January 2020 to face this threat. In that context, President Sebastian Piñera requested that we prepare for a scenario in which classes would be suspended. This allowed us to set a series of activities in motion that would provide continuity in our students’ learning, and maintain benefits for the most vulnerable sectors of society.

Following the complete suspension of classes in March, we made the platform Aprendo en línea available to the educational community, which has resources for students from 1st grade through the final year of secondary level. To support the continuity of students’ learning, we formed an alliance with Athena, the Mobile Telephone Association of Chile to ensure free downloads of texts and study guides so that students would not need to use data from their phone plans to access this material. Students can also complement their studies with the Biblioteca Digital Escolar, which offers more than 10,000 free books available to all.

As of end March, the platform has been used by more than two million users, which shows that we are on the right track. We need to keep working together in a coordinated way so that our students’ educational processes are not interrupted.

E-learning en Santiago, Chile durante la emergencia del COVID-19

We have also formed an alliance with Google and Fundación Chile to facilitate access and technical support to educational institutions seeking to use G Suite for Education and Google Classroom. These systems support teachers to organize the content of their courses, follow up on assignments and communicate with students.

In order to support families, we have continued to provide school feeding benefits for approximately 1.600.000 children who represent the 60% most vulnerable groups in the country. We deliver a basket of goods and supplies that covers the nutritional needs of each child for fifteen days.

Technology is not available to everyone, and connectivity is not the same everywhere, especially in rural areas.  How is this being addressed in Chile? 

For those who have difficulties accessing the internet, we launched the “I Learn at Home” programme. We are distributing the same educational material in printed format, accompanied by notebooks for reinforcement that are being distributed to 3.700 rural schools and others with limited connectivity. We are using these methods to reach all corners of Chile with the needed pedadgogical tools. 

How is the educational system preparing for various kinds of crises?

We are faced with a new situation,where working in a collaborative fashion with the authorities and educational communities is fundamental.   Here the use of technology has been key as a tool for support of learning objectives, and to support parents that have had to assume active roles from home to guarantee the learning continuity for our students. 

Flexibility will be the key word for going back to school.  You have described this period as a parentheses in the school year.  How are you planning to ensure flexibility to ensure proper completion of the school year? 

We are facing unprecedented circumstances, and we are all learning. Flexibility will be key to resume classes and the academic calendar.  The main point is that we are making every effort now to ensure learning continuity. It is a commitment that the entire educational community needs to make. 

The global situation that we are facing is a huge test for tele-working and distance learning. What lessons can Chile learn from this to face the future of Education? 

Although the work that happens in schools is unique and difficult to replace, digitalization is an important instrument that needs to be developed to face the future. Our Ministry is making progress on a series of initiatives that aim to strengthen these issues. .

The Assistant Secretary General of UNESCO, Stefania Giannini has said that “this is the moment to share our data and our solutions, to exchange knowledge, capacities and talents in accordance with the principles of inclusion and equity.  In this sense, what does Chile expect from international cooperation, especially UNESCO?  What can offer Chile to other countries?

It is time for us to come together, not only to guarantee learning continuity, but to invest in the transformative power that education gives to people, communities and societies. Good ideas and practices need to be replicated. We are completely available for collaboration with other countries to strengthen educational systems and to mutually enrich ourselves to improve pedagogical tools that we make available to educational communities. 

What message would you lie to share with educational communities in Chile, teachers, educational workers, students and families? 

I would like to highlight the effort and commitment of educational communities, and to thank all for the collaborative work in which many have participated with ethical shifts, and which have helped us manage this health crisis.

Two million users are already using our platform Aprendo en línea, approximately 1.600.000 students are benefitting from the school feeding programme and 3.700 rural and vulnerable schools have been integrated into the pedagogical tools network. This is the time to come together to ensure learning continuity.