Life of a student in rural Guatemala – Conversation with Tomas Tol Perez

The Guatemalan school year for public and most private schools begins in January and ends in October. This year’s fight against COVID-19 has disrupted the school year for many students in Guatemala. Teachers were preparing to enter the second trimester and grade exams. How many teachers are out of work and unable to interact with their children. Children are now missing necessary instruction to improve critical math and reading skills. This is especially evident in the rural parts of Guatemala. In Chontala, El Quiche, we spoke with Tomas Tol Perez to gain insight into how students are managing their studies during these challenging times. His daughter is among one of those students striving to finish middle school while engaging in distance learning.

COVID19 has demonstrated to many people that accessing the internet continues to be a barrier for those with scarce resources. Kids in rural Guatemala are seeing this more than any sector in the country. Specifically, in Chontala kids in primary school are no longer receiving any kind of instruction. This is due to many factors, some that are simple, other factors are more complex. Lack of access to the internet, the cost of internet access, lack of technology fluent family members are among the factors. However, it also does not help when you have a school system that never implemented technology in its everyday instruction to begin with. So, most primary school populations are completely and indefinitely without any kind of instruction.

In contrast, secondary and older school age youth are receiving some type of instruction. The amount and complexity of that instruction differs according to how available resources are in the corresponding community. In Chontala, the older youth are receiving homework, turning in assignments, and receiving occasional instructional videos from their teachers via the application WhatsApp. These exchanges between teachers and students happen around 2 to 3 times a week. These older students are considered fortunate because their futures are considered less hazy.

In Chontala and other communities, parents, students, and teachers are very worried. Many of these concerns overlap. In Guatemala, some teachers are paid by the local parents and not the government. These teachers usually teach subjects such as English. In Chontala, the English teacher is without a salary because parents can’t afford to pay for a teacher who is not able to teach their children because of COVID-19. Other teachers that are paid by the government are receiving their salaries. Parents, whose children are in primary schools are worried about whether or not their children will pass their current grade. Will there be midterms or final exams? If so, how can you test a child who has not been receiving any type of instruction? Will they be graduated automatically or forced to repeat a grade? If Guatemala finishes our shelter in place period before the school year ends, will parents be able to pay certain teachers? If they are not, who will or will students have a shortage of teachers?

Many of these questions concern an uncertain future and a future that the government is ill equipped to handle. Life in Guatemala for most has always been a balancing act of falling into an abyss or staying afloat to survive. For many, that is even more the case in these times.

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