An interview with Antonio de Souza Júnior, Director of Education, Jaraguá do Sul Municipality, Santa Catarina, Brazil
Interview and translation by Mauricio Pino Yancovic, CIAE Institute for Advanced Education Studies, Chile
1. How did the different service providers react to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Since March 19th classes have been suspended for 30 days at a time by decree from the Governor of the State of Santa Catariana (the region where we are located). New decrees have been issued and at the moment classes are suspended until August 3rd. However there may be changes as the pandemic evolves. In Jaraguá do Sul we had a 5-day break, which was necessary to organise schools for virtual classes. After these five days of technical structuring of these virtual classrooms, we started to prepare the pedagogical teams – the pedagogical team of the Municipal Education Department, the pedagogical teams of the school units and the teams to train teachers.
During this period, we advanced the July vacations of students and teachers, so that we could connect with students who had not been able to access the virtual classrooms. At the same time, the directors of the school units, together with the administrative team, carried out a survey of families that had no way of accessing the virtual rooms. After this survey, around 500 mobile phone chips were loaned to families with 10 GB of mobile data for 1 month of school, and around 60 smartphones were also loaned to families who had neither the Internet nor equipment. The chips were acquired by the Municipal Department of Education through the decree of public calamity that places Education as an essential service, thus enabling the emergency purchase of these chips. Smartphones, on the other hand, were acquired through a judicial suspension of a fine between a telephone company and the municipality of Jaraguá do Sul, which transformed the value into cash that allowed the purchase of smartphones by the municipality that are benefiting dozens of families in this difficult time. We know that we still have many difficulties, but we are very proud of everything we have done for the education of our municipality.
2. How are frontline workers responding and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?
At first, it was extremely difficult for all of us who were used to a way of teaching and now we know that when we return it will continue be a totally different way. Among our 2000 public servants, around 1000 are teachers. Many already had the basic knowledge of technology, some others were a little more advanced, while others did not even have e-mail. So, it was a huge challenge for all of us and for teachers to understand the magnitude of the moment we are going through and open up to the world of technologies. Some the process was a little slower and many teachers surprised us with the creativity and the ability to transform their classroom classes into virtual classes.
Nevertheless, for teachers who did not have good equipment to carry out their work activities, the Municipal Department of Education lent computers from school units so that these teachers could plan in their homes. The Department also provides constant training and a space for teachers to exchange of experiences, so that they can always see what they can improve in their classes. We know that we are all working much harder at this moment than before and that is why the Municipal Department of Education managed to organise its school calendar so that at the beginning of June all teachers and pedagogical teams in the units could have a week of school break, so that they could rest and recharge their energies. We know that the moment is difficult, but we are having success due to the unparalleled work of our teachers and technical teams.
3. What responses have you implemented to meet the needs of families and children living in poverty?
An important process was to look specifically at each family in our municipality. As I said earlier, for families that did not have internet at home we provided them with an internet chip so that they could access virtual classes, and for families that did not have a device to access virtual classes, we lent smartphones and computers so that they could access classes. In some cases our technicians went to the families’ houses to do the installation. And in more extreme cases, in which families have lost their income and are having difficulty buying food, the Municipal Department of Education delivered the food from schools set aside for the students for these families. If it was not enough, these families were referred to social assistance programs in the municipality of Jaraguá do Sul, which are providing a card with a set value per family so they can buy their food.
4. What were the main challenges that services faced in responding to COVID-19?
We had two major challenges, the first was to understand what we were facing and adapt.
How? We had to continue classes, but we had nothing organized for online classes at the beginning of school closures. We then worked to structure 955 virtual classrooms, inserted around 21,000 students and started the process. This organization took place through the technical and pedagogical team, where we created classroom by classroom for each school unit. The same process as if the class was in person but everything was done online through Google Classroom. Today, we have 99.10% of students in the classroom receiving activities every day, from ages zero to fourteen years. We have also received responses in this platform from 80% of families.
The next challenge is to make the population understand and value the work that is being done in these circumstances by both parents and teachers. I say this because we know that many families are still working, come home tired or even leave their children with relatives or neighbors to go to work and still have to assist their children in carrying out learning activities in some cases. But as our Secretary of Education, Mrs. Ivana Dias, always says: – “We would love for our students to attend our schools in person, but at this moment it is not possible. So we are doing the best that this moment allows us. “
We know that the vast majority of cities in our country are not acting so quickly on the issue of education, and that worries me a lot. But we are here to tell everyone that yes, it can be done with a lot of quality – even in public schools with needy families. We must adopt an agile posture and do not cross our arms in the face of difficulties. Today leaders and teachers in our region are sought after by municipalities across the country and even private schools to find out how we managed to accomplish what we are doing, which makes us very proud.
But once again, much of this success is down to the willingness and agility of public agents to treat education as a priority and not leave our children abandoned physically and pedagogically.
5. What are the top priorities for service providers to support the next phase of recovery from the COVID pandemic19?
The main priority is to establish the right time to start returning to activities in our school units. We still do not know the right time for the return here in the state of Santa Catarina – we only have a forecast of return for the 3rd of August, but that can be modified at any time depending on whether the pandemic is evolving or not. What we are preparing here in our education department are the pedagogical plans for when we return. We know that these plans will include normal classes with the normal contents, but it will be extremely necessary for a major review of the contents that were delivered only online, including those that were started in person and continued online. We are also thinking about tutoring and extra activities so that students do not fall behind.
The second plan is a health plan for school units. Bidding processes are being organized for the purchase of individual protection products for teachers, staff and students from all school units, including masks, gloves, face-shields, supplies for hand sanitizer and more. As this plan is also being discussed with the Municipal Health Secretariat, it may be that in some cases a kind of “rotation” is used among students in attendance, so that the minimum distance of 1.5 meters within the classrooms is respected. Break times during the school day will also be reorganized so that so that no agglomerations of students occur. All of this is still being studied, but as I said, we are already preparing ourselves not to be caught by surprise again.
6. What are your recommendations for educational policies for dealing with COVID-19?
First of all I believe that we must understand, once and for all, that educational technology is no longer just an “appendix” to our education. I think COVID-19 has clearly shown that it is rather something to embrace and invest in because even if the face-to-face classes return many activities will continue online.
Once again I want to leave here my appeal to all government officials, that even with everything that is happening and with the most diverse difficulties that we encounter, it is possible to educate and support our children right now. Reinventing ourselves, adapting, leaving our comfort zone and facing reality – to do those things we need people committed to education more than ever.
Finally, I think that the serious work that we had here serves as a good example for various locations around the world that are also facing difficulties, especially cities in Latin America, where we know that the situation is more difficult. You must believe that it is possible to adapt and ask for help when you need it. It seems to me that we have evolved over 100 years in a month, and all this was not only through technology but through the involvement and commitment of the entire team of the Municipal Secretary of Education of Jaraguá do Sul.
To cite this article: Pino Yancovic, Mauricio. Facing COVID, we have evolved over 100 years in a month: Jaraguá do Sul, Brazil, Policy Scotland, 22 June 2020
Image credit: Thais Ceneviva | iStockphoto