View from here - Breaking the law to teach

16th October 2009 at 01:00
A swine-flu closure in Bolivia couldn't stop some rebel educators from reaching their students, reports Laura Jones

Fear of swine flu took hold in Bolivia at the end of last term, as in the UK. A key difference was that more schools here were ordered to shut, although some found cunning ways to get round the compulsory closures.

For many poor families in Bolivia, there was little likelihood they could afford the medical care if their children caught the H1N1 virus. They might also be tempted to send their children to school even if they were ill, increasing the chances of it spreading.

Thus, the 15 provinces in the Santa Cruz region of eastern Bolivia took the decision to shut all their schools, state and private, for a week at the end of term, and on at least one previous occasion.

It seemed sensible, given the risk. But the different ways schools responded revealed how such events can broaden the state-private divide in education.

I have been lucky to be staying with a privileged family in Santa Cruz, who have two young girls at a private, fee-paying school. While the state schools remained shut for the week, and provided no extra learning materials, the private school the girls attend ensured they continued working online.

But it went further. Concerned that pupils might fall behind or that it might have to extend the next term into the Christmas holiday, the school opted to flout the law. For two days it opened for lessons, surreptitiously. To prevent the head getting into trouble, or even jailed, the girls went in without uniform, in casual clothes.

Of course, there was still a risk that others might notice if pupils arrived and left the school as normal. So the timetable was also adjusted: rather than attending from 8am until 3.10pm, they had classes from 1.30 to 5.30pm.

The school's willingness to break the law could be seen as testament to how important it regards classroom teaching - or, more cynically, how seriously parents and teachers take their holidays.

Meanwhile, pupils in the state system had no lessons at all and few will have had access to the internet, pushing them further behind their privately-educated counterparts.

Small wonder that, according to the girls, it is a common threat to children who are not working hard that they will be sent to a state school if they are not careful.

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