Pandemics and the Urban-rural divide in Colombia

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Colombia as a developing country has stark structural divides in access to technology and education, now that Covid has forced schools and universities to close their buildings both divides are becoming more evident, and the cleavage seems to be widening.


In Colombia, almost all universities already had Moodle, blackboard and other tools, which worked as a complement or appendix of face-to-face life within campus. When they were forced to shut down their buildings and move on to virtual classes, the platforms became robust in a very short time, so the issues were not related with the lack of preparation present in other sectors of society. For example, the Universidad del Rosario wanted to emulate the main campus so that all the buildings could be seen on a map, including the chaplaincy, psychological assistance, library and classrooms and one can navigate it easily.


Beyond the great adaptations in infrastructure, the most profound changes are taking place in the interactions between teaching staff and students. Some teachers have reported difficulties in keeping their students engaged; they are unable to follow the syllabus, as they try to negotiate new strategies.


Some of these new strategies include producing audiovisual material instead of written text, so they can create the feeling of being present and being in place, however, they have found this task more demanding to assess.


In the rural areas of Colombia, the outlook is a bit darker because neither tertiary education nor internet penetration is patent. However, some teachers have reported extremely creative uses of cell phones.  A rural teacher told me that for those students who live in areas where internet is not available, they had devised a tutoring system in which students would have phone sessions. Then, through photographs, students document their project’s progression which they would later send via WhatsApp, sometimes even several days later, when they go to the municipal capitals or when they have money to top up data (1,000 or 2,000 pesos. 20 to 50 pence)


In conclusion, the digitization of education in Colombia is not only shaped by the creativity of those involved. It is constrained by pre-existing structural inequalities such as the gaps in access to the internet, urban-rural divide, purchasing power and access to devices. It also reveals and scavenging economy where individuals live day by day with extreme uncertainty about the future. The virus just made evident structural and chronic problems of the country.



Note: the picture in this entry was kindly shared by a teacher with authorization of the pupils’ mother.