What the pandemic gave to Puerto Rican education
Education is considered by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as one of the basic pillars for a country's economic growth and competitiveness. At its meeting in January 2021, the WEF anticipated that the fourth industrial revolution demands a labour infrastructure in favour of work automation. The pandemic gave a "reset" to life in society as we know it and accelerated the automation of many processes, increasing the gap between those who know and use computer technology and those who do not.
For decades, Puerto Rico has tried to be at the forefront and position itself in economic terms on a global platform. The road has been difficult, largely because it has ignored the fact that the basis for sustainable economic growth is education and that it is vital to have a robust and accessible technological infrastructure to keep up with the times. Our country has had several structural reforms, and some steps have been taken to move our education towards new paradigms, but we have failed to consider that more than half of the students live below the poverty level, and the will of all sectors is urgently needed for our education system to keep up with the times and be inclusive for all.
The pandemic came to give us that sense of urgency that we did not have. At the same time, it exposed how vulnerable many sectors of our society are, especially children. In Puerto Rico, six out of ten children live below the poverty line. Most of these children attend public or public schools. When required to learn using a computer, the absence of a stable connection, the challenges with electricity, the lack of adults to supervise online homework, among other aspects, places the most vulnerable towards falling further behind in school.
Since last year, progress has been made, at least in terms of giving everyone in public schools access to up-to-date technological equipment, identifying what educators need to learn, and teaching how to integrate technology into the classroom. Financial resources have now been designated so that all students and teachers, in every corner of the country, have computers and free internet in their homes, the technological infrastructure of schools has begun to be upgraded, and the technical resources of the system have been reinforced to ensure that technological integration in our classrooms is a success.
On the other hand, the DEPR understood that the future has arrived and there is no turning back. For this reason, it also began to deal with the need for teachers to create new ways of interacting with their students, to adapt quickly to different didactic dynamics and not to be satisfied with simply teaching a class while looking at a screen. In this sense, the agency has been responsible for promoting the technological empowerment of teachers through the provision of targeted training (workshops, coaching, mentoring, demonstration classes) and self-directed training (micro-credentials for competencies), among other strategies. This has led to a more dynamic interaction and, finally, new technologies are being used to address student interest and education is starting to focus on the competences that students want to master.
There are still great challenges ahead of us, especially for poor children in public schools. We need to support those parents who cannot work from home, but have children who need to do so. With this pandemic, we have definitely gained the opening to new educational possibilities . Now that that door has been opened, we must take advantage of the coalitions that have been created to accelerate the optimisation of education globally pre- and post-COVID 19.
The pandemic affirmed that we are citizens of the world. There are organisations like ours committed to working together to make the reset an inclusive opportunity for all. It is time for all sectors to contribute to ensuring that we all have access to inclusive education in the 21st century.