Online education in Argentina Wi-fi – Fighting in the living room and…where are my grades?

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Author: Ximena Díaz Alarcón,  current PhD Candidate in Sociology (UCA – Universidad Católica Argentina). You can contact her at xdiaz@youniversalcontent.com.

Fieldsite: In lockdown in Buenos Aires, Argentina, connecting with informants via Whatsapp via mobile phone

The quarantine keeps getting extended as well as online learning. The last official date for a supposed end or at least, some flexibilization is June 8, when Argentina will reach its 80th day of uninterrupted full lockdown. As we reach new peaks in the number of cases and deaths and the healthcare system gets prepared and fortified, online learning continues to be the only possible way to continue with the education for all levels of education.

The never-ending quarantine: a meme with the president as Atreyu from the Neverending Story. Meme shared online.

At home, education requires wi-fi access and sadly, this is not an evenly spread service or possibility for the vast majority of citizens. In households where this is possible, people express the tensions that arise for the quality of the communications. A child told me during our virtual interview that the “teacher sounded “pixelated during class” due to bad connectivity and his mother commented on the burden of having to help coordinate homework. “And of course, fighting all for wi-fi access! If I  have a zoom meeting at the same time that he has his class…it´s a kind of war in the living room.”

In these pandemic days, space, connections and time seem to have compressed and almost lose meaning. The same mother that expressed her tiredness about having to coordinate all activities at home (her own work, the homework of her kids, etc), reclaimed space for herself  “sometimes I go and read inside the car in the garage. I need a moment to myself”. The different parts of the day seem to have lost its distinction and she continuednowadays it is light or dark, is AM or PM, I just don´t know the hours anymore! Everything is mixed up when you are inside all day, every day, for all activities”.

All this effort to keep social distancing and a full lockdown has led to some public discussions regarding the impact of the pandemic in the quality of the education kids and teens where receiving. Sleeping kids during Zoom Classes, Zoom- fatigue syndrome and eyesore alerts from paediatricians, as well as the isolation impact on mental health for everyone but especially for young kids, made the news during these weeks.

Due to these issues, the government issued the possibility of a special permit to circulate in the city during weekends. Many parents expressed their concern regarding the lack of social contact their kids were having with other peers. If a substantial part of learning leans on social interaction, without a doubt this contact is today absolutely virtualized. The result of this long period without face-to-face classrooms interaction is yet unknown.

Both for school support as well as for socialising, Whatsapp was the weapon of choice for the families that shared their experience with me. Zoom birthday parties are a given, as well as sharing a special video with good wishes from all friends as a way to be “closer apart in these strange times”, as one dad put it. Whatsapp seems to be a choice for sharing answers during online tests. As a teacher shared on Twitter in a Tweet that got 142.000 likes. Do my students know I’m still in the Whatsapp group where they are sharing the answers to my test?

The tweet in question

 “Although none is really sure  kids are  really learning in this new all -virtual classwork, maintaining a certain schedule is good for them but  stressful for you!” Trying to bring some resemblance of normality via online classes, seems to help the rhythm of the house. 

Are kids going to be graded or not during this trimester of school? After much back and forth news, the government decided that they were not going to have grades for the school activities held during the quarantine. Among the people I interviewed during these weeks, the opinions were quite divided about the non-grading decision: some considered disrespect for the kids and for their own effort  “If I  knew this was going to be a “pretence”  with no grades, I wouldn´t have bothered and wouldn’t have pushed them so hard with homework. With no grades, how will they know if they did well or not?.

Others considered  that this pandemic had its own learning process, with teachings that go far beyond school subjects  “After all, the important thing is that they were safe at home and learned about priorities, about flexibility and resilience….and after all…all this might end up being more useful for them in life, than being graded for learning facts and figures…”

Learning with or without grades, it seems we are all learning a lot about ourselves in the lockdown.