Children in Argentina are preparing to return to schools, with select provinces set to reopen classroom doors as from this Wednesday and others to soon follow suit.
For many students, it will be the first chance for them to enjoy face-to-face classes with their teachers and peers since March last year, when educational institutions were forced to shutter their doors amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking Friday after a meeting of the Federal Council of Education (CFE), President Alberto Fernández celebrated the upcoming return of classes, saying that although it wouldn’t be a normal school year, teachers were committed to providing the best education possible.
Declaring that "without health there is no present and without education there is no future," the Peronist leader said that special sanitary protocols would help to protect students and teachers alike.
"Going back to class this time will not have the characteristics of any ordinary day in March. It is a return to a class full of care, preserving the distance and closeness of teachers and students, and prioritising the health of teachers, whom we must help to get their vaccination as soon as possible," said the president, after talks with representatives from all 24 regional jurisdictions.
At a press conference after the meeting, Education Minister Nicolás Trotta said that each regional government would have to follow protocols and ensure a safe return to learning.
"The process of returning will be a permanent construction," said the head of the education portfolio, who assured that the national government would assume the "responsibility of accompanying each of the jurisdictions."
“Beyond the challenge, the conditions for presence are there," he said, adding that talks over salaries would begin soon.
Trotta also addressed when teachers would be offered vaccines, saying the imminent arrival of a new batch of Sputnik V shots from Russia would pave the way. He emphasised, however, that teachers did not need a vaccine to return to classrooms.
The City of Buenos Aires will be the first to begin classes in person this Wednesday (February 17), followed by Jujuy (February 22). Another 16 provinces will begin classes on March 1, with Misiones due to restart on March 9. Patatonian provinces will restart in the first week of March.
Some teachers unions, however, are unhappy at the decision to authorise face-to-face classes. The Ademys union said Friday that it would launch a 72-hour strike next Wednesday in protest at the poor "sanitary conditions, infrastructure and wages" facing teachers. "They push for a return of face-to-face classes while all indicators show the level of contagion is above that recommended for said opening," said the union, which argued the decision put teachers "at great risk."
The government has come under strong criticism from sectors of the opposition in recent months, who say the return of classes should have been authorised much earlier.