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Spain goes back to school, but the pandemic reveals inequality

Spain became the first Western European country to reach half a million confirmed coronavirus infections on Monday, the highest daily number since May on Friday.

To stop the spread in schools, the government set the rules in late August: All students aged six and over must wear masks in class. class sizes must be reduced. students should be kept in “bubbles” to prevent mixing. Offices must be at least 1.5 meters away. all schools need to improve outdoor ventilation and provide hand sanitizer stations.

However, the new Covid-19 regulations risk widening the gap between rich and poor, exacerbating the inequality between private and public schools – especially in the affected neighborhoods of Madrid.

In the Spanish capital, the British Council School – a private institution that pays fees – is already building a new open extension in its cafeteria when the new Covid-19 guidelines were announced.

She is now installing six prefabricated mobile classrooms and her playground has been turned into a maze of plastic rainbow dividers to keep students in their safety bubbles.

The British Council School in Madrid is already building a new open extension in its cafeteria and is now installing six prefabricated mobile rooms.

“It forces you to think creatively, look at spaces differently and see what the basic principles of learning are,” explains Mercedes Hernandez School Principal.

Hernandez admits that her school is in a privileged position. “Technology, a great campus and beautiful Spanish weather allow us to learn in many different places in many different ways,” says CNN.

On a tour of the suburban campus, Hernandez introduces the school’s head nurse, Inmaculada Herranz, who trains two smiling nurses who have joined her team before the new school year.

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The nursing home is piled high with hand sanitizer, masks, face screens and thermometers. Herranz pours a pink liquid into our hands, the gold standard in disinfectant gels that assures us.

Hernandez says the school is making the most of its good fortune. He was able to act quickly – before the government guidelines were issued – because he relied on the experience of other British Council schools, particularly in China.

 Inmaculada Herranz, Chief Nurse at the British Council School, Madrid.

“In January and February, the school started forming an event management team, looking at possible scenarios – what would happen and what would we do?” Hernandez says. “Little did we know that a few weeks later he would come to Italy and then to us.”

The school exposes inequalities

The gap between private and public schools in Madrid is sharp, especially in working-class areas in the south, where the virus has grown faster in recent weeks.

In the Legan├ęs neighborhood, Aben Hamza Public School has a cracked concrete sports field and steel shutters above the windows.

Maria Carmen Morillas of the National Parents’ Union says classes here can easily exceed 30 students – well above government guidelines.

Aben Hamza Public School does not see the same financial investment and budgets are still being worked out.

But there are no builders here building extensions to already well-ventilated classrooms, and there are no orientation programs for new staff. This is because budgets are still being worked out.

“The delays have caused distrust, obviously,” he says. “What is absolutely necessary is financial investment: Teachers must be hired now, from day one, not after weeks and weeks of waiting.”

The Madrid municipal government finally allocated 370 million euros ($ 437 million) for Covid-19 measures in schools at the end of August, promising to hire 11,000 new teachers. But the news came too late for many schools in the city, which had to delay the start of the school year.

Teachers are also frustrated.

“There is no planning ahead,” said Laura Macgregor, an English teacher at a private school in Madrid whose children attend a public school in the city center.

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“We knew the virus would still be with us in September – the plans should have been in place by July so school administrators had time to prepare,” he said.

“Now, they work around the clock without thinking or planning. It will be really chaotic, the first weeks of the term “.

Worse still, if classes can not be conducted safely, a Morillas Parents’ Association spokesman worries that public school students may be forced to return to e-learning. He fears that he will leave them behind their peers in private schools that may be able to stay open.

Morillas has four children of her own – and a single computer, all of which had to be shared for lessons at the height of the pandemic.

“The screen is not a school,” he says bluntly.

“These last few months have created a digital divide that has made the social divide even bigger, a problem that is now much deeper and more complex to solve.”

The pandemic underscores inequality in other European countries as well.

At the time of the lock in the UK, 31% of private schools provided students with four or more lessons per day, compared with just 6% of public schools, one University College London study were found. In half of the private schools surveyed, students spent four or more hours a day on schoolwork, but in public schools, the rate was just 18%.
And in August, students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who failed their exams received grades determined by an algorithm – leading to an outcry for the alleged algorithmic bias against students from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
Use of the algorithm, which has existed ever since returned by the UK government, had to guarantee justice by ensuring the distribution of grades for the 2020 cohort, following the pattern of previous years, based on teacher forecasts and teacher scores to determine grades. But it also took into account the historical performance of the schools, which benefited the students from more affluent backgrounds.

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