Back to mandatory face-to-face classes in MG: what they think

Worried about the lack of investment in hygiene in schools, but happy to be able to “come back to life”. This is how Kaique Maciel Fernandes, a high school student from the city of Uberlândia (MG), describes his anxiety about returning to in-person classes. “I worry about how we are going to solve this problem, because the government does not invest in schools as it should. But, as I said, it’s living again”, pointed out the young man.

Last Friday (22), the government of Minas Gerais announced that, as of November 3, face-to-face return to public and private schools will no longer be optional. Since July 5th, teachers and students had already resumed face-to-face activities in a hybrid way, that is, one week at home and another at school. In this model, the presence of students in face-to-face classes was not mandatory.

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For the Portuguese language teacher Andréia Vieira, hybrid teaching was confusing, tiring and unproductive. “It wasn’t a good period, because every week of in-person classes seemed like the first week of the year, since the classes were divided into many groups and we always had to start over from scratch”, he says.

In doubt, Andreia wonders if the best time to return to face-to-face and mandatory classes is now, although the pandemic is at a more controlled time. “I see it more as an attempt by the government to say that in Minas, classes were resumed in 2021. I don’t think it will be productive, because there is little time to recover the lost content, there will be very few classes until the end of the year”, he declares.

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Jussara Lacerda de Oliveira, who teaches philosophy at a school in Belo Horizonte, also understands the limits of hybrid education and the need for students to return to schools to improve performance. However, she also questions herself. “Forcing students to attend the fourth quarter makes no sense. Most already have workload and grade to be approved. Will they fail if they are absent?”, he asks.

Lack of computer at home, poor quality cell phone and lack of adequate space to study were some of the difficulties faced by the closing of schools.

For all these issues, for the teachers, the school community is divided in relation to going back to compulsory classes. There are many students and education professionals who are eager to see their peers, interact with people and, as Kaique said, return to normal life. However, there are those concerned about the health condition and the fact that many students have started to work, including to supplement their family income, given the serious economic crisis in the country.

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For the Secretary of State for Education, Júlia Sant’Anna, the possibility of returning all students to the classrooms is a consequence of work that has been carried out since June. She refers to the resumption of classes in a hybrid format in the state education system, which was carried out in a “safe and conscious” manner. This, added to the improvement in epidemiological indices and the vaccination of education professionals and adolescents, brings, to the secretary, “a lot of peace of mind in taking this new step”.

Our greatest difficulty was being able to seek strategies to serve students in their specificities.

“We understand that the return of all students to schools is essential for strengthening the learning process and the bond with the school, working even more effectively to reduce gaps in teaching and the dropout rate of our students”, he says Julia. In June of this year, the state government announced that it had invested more than R$ 97 million in works in 361 schools

Based on data from the School Census, a 2018 survey, the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socio-Economic Studies (DIEESE) showed in a study that, among the 5 thousand state schools in Minas, more than 900 did not have a cafeteria for food, more than a thousand schools do not have toilets for employees and more than 900 do not have an outdoor patio.

Difficulties with remote learning

Kaique has always been a student of public education and committed to building projects to improve the school. Even with the difficulty of reconciling the study and work routine, he feels excited about the school environment. “My routine was very busy and that made me excited, you know? Getting things done and seeing the results is very inspiring. I also worked part-time and I confess that reconciling everything was a bit chaotic, but going to school gave me a lot of excitement”, he emphasized.

Lack of computer at home, poor quality cell phone and lack of adequate space to study were some of the difficulties faced by the student with the closing of schools and the emergence of Remote Emergency Education, due to the covid-19 pandemic. For Kaique, the new model directly impacted their school performance and contributed to the development of mental suffering.

Teachers point out that there is little information directed to the category on how the mandatory return will be given

“I tried, but it just seemed to go wrong. It reached the end of 2020 and I was recovering in subjects that, before remote teaching, I was very good. I can say that my remote teaching routine left me very destabilized, I developed general anxiety and depression too. Of course, it wasn’t just the remote teaching’s fault, but it was a big factor”, she reports.

Philosophy professor Jussara believes that the biggest difficulty in remote learning is being far from the students’ reality, like Kaique’s. “Our biggest difficulty was to be able to seek strategies to meet the students’ specific needs. For example, in addition to the government application, I provided e-mail, taught on Google Meet and created a WhatsApp just for students, but even so, some of them never talked to me and only delivered the activities at school”, he points out.

Protocols

The state government’s resolution, published on October 25, lists the protocols for preventing covid-19 that must be followed by the school community. The fifth article of the document, for example, points out that the full resumption of face-to-face school activities must monitor the risk of spreading the virus, the school management must report suspected and confirmed cases, and adopt contingency measures when appropriate.

The regulation also defines that the return will not be mandatory for students proven to belong to a group at risk of the disease and that those who manifest symptoms in the classroom must be removed from the rest of the group.

Regarding assessments and the use of activities developed during hybrid education, the resolution points out that the completion and return of Tutored Study Plans (PET) and complementary activities are still mandatory for all students.

The return in the form in which it has been built goes against the government’s own guidelines

Still on the monitoring of school performance, the regulation determines that it is the responsibility of the school manager and the specialist of basic education to supervise and validate the in-person and non-face-to-face pedagogical activities and the participation of students until the end of the school year.

As for the capacity of classrooms, according to the document, it is up to the school units to observe the capacity in accordance with the current sanitary protocol. The document states that students must remain in the same classroom at all times and that it is the teacher’s responsibility to move between classrooms.

The sanitary protocol also guides students and teachers to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, before entering the classroom, before eating and after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing.

The limit between what is said and what is done

Despite the publication of the resolution, teachers point out that there is little information directed to the category about how the mandatory return will be given. “We are all very distressed, as we received the news of the new protocol through the channels of the State Department of Education, but we did not, in fact, have any explanation as to how it will be”, declared Jussara.

The teacher is also concerned about the number of students in the classroom, since the resolution did not establish the maximum capacity allowed. “We have an average of 40 students per class, and teaching a normal class to a crowded class is already a challenge, with a mask and safety protocols, I don’t know how it will be possible”, he points out.

Return process is accelerated and no transition

For Paulo Grossi, state director of the Viçosa and Ponte Nova region of the Single Union of Workers in Education (SindUTE-MG), the return in the form in which it has been built goes against the government’s own guidelines, which adopted the strategy of gradual return and in a hybrid way. Although not opposed to classroom classes, Paulo believes that this should be done with more planning, dialogue with the school community and a transition plan.

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“The process is fast-paced and has missed important stages for a gradual and safe transition to return to schools in person. I believe that, with immunization advancing, the return can happen in a safer way, but we need to have more transition time”, he points out. The vaccination schedule in the region, according to Paulo, for young people up to 12 years old has not yet been met.

Care must be taken not to repeat the same mistakes

The president of the Teachers Union of the State of Minas Gerais (Sinpro-MG), an entity that represents teachers from the private network, Valéria Morato, shares the network’s experience and emphasizes the need to follow sanitary measures.

The sector had a face-to-face return in April this year. “At that moment, we had many problems of contamination, insecurity and even overcrowding. We made several complaints to the sanitary surveillance and, only after that, adjustments were made”, declared the union member.

With the advance of vaccination, Valéria believes that the current scenario is better than at the beginning of the year. However, she points to the need to continue the care to prevent the virus from circulating. “Today, the expanded opening does not impact the private sector so much, because vaccination coverage has already advanced a lot, including teenagers. What we cannot do is fail to apply health protocols. This week, BH has already had an increase in the number of contaminations, returning to the yellow wave”, he pointed out.

Source: BoF Minas Gerais

Edition: Larissa Costa

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