There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone, all over the world. But as with so many things, it has hit those already at a social disadvantage much harder than the well-off. In April and May, we made the most of easing Covid-19 restrictions to check in with the rural communities around Cusco, to see if there’s anything they need us to help with. And it kept coming back to education.
Hit Hard by the Pandemic
Although children in most countries have had long stints of home-schooling over the last year, many have been able to spend at least a few months in the classroom. Additionally, children living in wealthy countries generally have access to an internet connection and at least one computer, tablet or smartphone at home, even if they have to share it with their siblings. But that has not been the case in many countries like Peru.
The vast majority of children in mountain communities don’t have computers or tablets and definitely no printers. There is access to internet in some places, but it’s usually spotty as its only available via mobile services. Other villages are tucked away in the folds of the mountains, so mobile data services don’t reach them at all. The result of all this is that kids in rural villages have limited access to the government’s online learning platform; in some cases, they haven’t had any access at all.
A Long-Term Problem
Eighteen months have passed since schools last closed their doors for summer vacation in December 2019 and there is still no end to the closures in sight. Education quality in Peru has long ranked poorly on the world stage (in 2017 Peru ranked 124 of the 137 countries included in the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Index) and education in rural areas has generally fared even worse. The pandemic has seen the rural-urban gap widen more, as well as additional drops in education quality. The result? Rural kids are getting left further and further behind.
As a small charity, we can’t replace government schooling, but we can find ways to supplement it. That’s what we have been doing at our Picaflor House project for years! But the unprecedented effects of the pandemic have motivated us to look for other ways we can help.
Taking Education to Rural Communities
After our conversations with villagers, we realised that a Mobile Library could be part of the answer. We discussed the idea with community leaders and carried out a pilot mobile library day, which involved taking books, arts materials and other learning resources to the children of two villages. They were so excited to read books again (most don't have access to books at home), get creative and share learning experiences with other kids. It was obvious that the last 18 months have had a detrimental effect on the children’s education, with younger kids in particular showing regression in their basic literacy and numeracy skills. The older children desperately want to get back to class and told us that they even miss following instructions from their teachers!
We are now in the process of setting up a long-term version of the mobile library, that can visit the rural villages around Cusco on a regular basis. The mobile library will give children the access to educational materials and qualified teachers that they so desperately need. Even one session a week will help to stimulate the children academically and help stop them falling even further behind. We plan to appoint someone in each village so that we can leave a different selection of books each week, giving the children access to reading materials even when we aren't there.
The first step is to purchase a vehicle and get our teachers onboard! We’ll be able to borrow books from Picaflor House to begin with, but we’ll need to buy more, as well as other education materials. We’re working on the logistics side of this project at the moment and will be ready to make visits to villages once or twice a week very soon. Even when schools reopen, this mobile library project will still have plenty of value. We will continue visiting the villages in the afternoons, to offer academic reinforcement, as well as sports and other fun activities which will all help restore the joy of learning!
Please help us prevent rural Peruvian children from falling even further behind academically, by donating whatever you can!