Challenges and opportunities in Argentina
To start, it is good to clarify that my country, Argentina, is considered an underdeveloped country. However, the challenges it faces are in many ways the same as the challenges people face in more developed countries. Which challenges am I talking about?
Why would I start with this challenge? Because it is from governments that many teachers’ challenges begin, similar to a top-down reading approach. Governments promise millions of things and then when they are in power, they forget everything. We hear and read about promises for “better connectivity, better salaries, better education…”, sounds familiar, right? One example that comes to my mind is that some years ago, they started giving computers to all the students (the famous 1 to 1: 1 computer for 1 student). It was great… but… they forgot teachers! They said “we are giving 1 to 1” and we thought that it was going to be for everybody. Well… no… almost one million computers were handed out but none of them went to any teacher. After thousands of complaints, we finally got one which, of course, was older than the computers students had.
Schools lack internet access and computers. In countries like mine where water is missing in some areas, connectivity is a real diamond. Lots of rural or suburban areas don’t have internet, therefore, students don’t have the chance to study when schools are closed, as they have been during the pandemic. They can’t connect to virtual classes, and we have to send our classes via WhatsApp or even walk to their homes. We are lucky when they can watch some videos on YouTube or even reply to our WhatsApp messages as they have to buy “internet cards” that provide a certain amount of time, and when it is over… it is over! I believe that people who are in government offices never see this reality. They sit inside four walls and think that everything is fantastic out in the street. I wonder if they have ever gone outside or if they have ever taught in real classes. I would be lying if I say that all of Argentina is the same but I should say that in regions some hundred kilometers away from Buenos Aires, our capital city, that is the situation.
The longest lockdown in the world
Students are reluctant to pay attention, parents are tired… I bet you (the reader) are nodding because this also happens to you. After one year and a half of listening and reading about COVID-19, I feel that we all share a similar burden on our backs. Last year, Argentina had the longest lockdown in the world: from March until mid-December! You cannot imagine how that affected everybody. We couldn’t go visit relatives, we couldn’t move from one province to the other, we had to stay inside! Lack of attention and tiredness are consequences of that. I am sure that TV channels, Netflix and other streaming apps had to update content every week in and for Argentina.
Working double or triple to make ends meet
Teachers work double or triple, yes, not only to make ends meet as our inflation is 42% annually but also because when working online, we have to prepare our classes, teach them and then correct students’ homework. In my case, I have 10 courses with 350 students in total. Officially I work 30 hours a week but I never count all the hours I spend at home, again, looking for material, preparing my classes and correcting. My eyes, my back and my buttocks are going crazy. I guess you must be surprised with my working time, but, in other provinces teachers have to work up to 54 hours each week and… money is never enough. My salary is about US$ 329 (1 AR$ equals 167US$ more or less) per month so with that inflation rate, it is hard to live.
It is not that all the blame falls on governments because we are also responsible for our own knowledge and for our own training. Those are challenges we have to face because we have to constantly look for material, courses, congresses and now, webinars. And this is hard, too, because it is difficult to find free online courses (unless they are offered by embassies or offer scholarships). We tend to work with colleagues and share resources. I am fortunate because I can still save and pay for some extras if I like, but not many can do this.
I still love teaching!
After all this, you might be wondering why I am STILL a teacher. Good question! Because I love it, because it is my passion and because I believe that education is the only door (and window) to better opportunities, whether we live in a developed or in an underdeveloped country.