The “Fourth Transformation” government’s attempt to impose a return to in-person classes launched by President López Obrador with the imperative slogan “come rain or shine” is an irresponsible measure. This decision is being made, it seems, in obedience to the directives from UNESCO and other international organisms who have urged the reactivation of the economy for the “lords of capital.” Moreover, it is happening during a critical moment of the pandemic when a third wave of infections is on the rise across the country. With record numbers of deaths that affect mostly children and young people, these groups are especially vulnerable because the vaccine has not yet been approved for use in children, and the national vaccination plan has decided to wait to inoculate young people.
By the Corriente Socialista de Trabajadores (Workers’ Socialist Current), translated to English by Rita Brown
The above situation does not surprise us. Because the Mexican government—like many other governments in the service of big business—has taken up a genocidal attitude from the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Yet this irresponsible course of action could become a disaster of immense proportions. Returning to classrooms means exposing students, teachers, and their families to new variants of the virus both in schools and on public transportation on the way to school. Returning to the classroom means the cost and task of cleaning and sanitizing classrooms and other school spaces will be passed onto parents. Returning to schools marked by material shortages and inadequate facilities also reminds us of the ways in which neoliberal governments have abandoned public education. To this we can add the total absence of sanitary conditions that might make classrooms safer including access to potable water and the possibility of maintaining a safe distance. Moreover there is a lack of access to indispensable materials such as face coverings, masks, and hand sanitizer. Responsibility for addressing this scarcity then falls on the shoulders of parents and teachers in many schools who are obligated to provide these materials for themselves and students.
All of this shows the immense social inequality that exists in our country as the consequence of a state that is not in the service of the people but rather big business. Yet again, policies in favor of business prevail over the needs of working people. The measures of the so-called “education reform” which actually aims to make way for the privatization of education, has meant the elimination of government financial support for electricity, water, and custodians. In addition it has left schools stuck with obsolete technology and a lack of internet. These shortfalls have meant parents have to fill the gap by taking on these costly responsibilities. Even worse, after a year and a half of the government’s abandonment of schools because of the pandemic, they are now being exposed to an especially dangerous situation.
They do not care that a large number of our children and young people have been put at risk. They could care less that some schools can’t guarantee the health of their students. Under these conditions there is no guarantee children will receive a quality education either.
President López Obrador repeats the same thing every day: “it’s for the good of the children, they need to socialize and receive instruction directly from their teachers.” In support of in-person classes, the governor of Veracruz declared that his State wanted to work against the indoctrination of “children and young people with individualist ideas!” Both discourses are pure demagogy when these children and young people’s lives are at risk. This is what’s truly at stake. These politicians minimize the more than 260,000 covid deaths that have made Mexico the fourth country with the highest number of deaths during the pandemic.
The fundamental motives for this position, far from ensuring the safety and “well-being of children and young people,” are based on an interest in reactivating the economy and the circulation of capital, which will ensure the earnings of local businessmen and imperialists.
Teachers represented by the National Coordinator of Education Workers (Coordinadora Nacional de trabajadores de la Educación, CNTE) have been disappointed again and again. And now they are being attacked and vilified by President López Obrador, his government, and his followers. He insulted the struggling teachers in Chiapas—one of the poorest states in the country—comparing them to FRENA (Frente Nacional Anti-AMLO), the extreme right opposition front. But why is he slandering the CNTE? Because CNTE teachers—as opposed to the corrupt leadership of the National Union for Education Workers or SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Educación) who have been collaborating with the Department of Education—have been the only ones to reject in-person classes after having surveyed parents to ask their opinion on the matter. The survey, in which 60, 026 parents participated, found that 81.7% disagreed that the school year should begin with in-person classes.
It is clear that an overwhelming majority of parents and teachers want to avoid deepening the health crisis caused by the pandemic when they express their disagreement with in-person classes. The president, who has been sympathetic to popular referendums in the past, which he pompously calls “participative democracy,” has decided to turn his back on public opinion and refuse to consult teachers and the community on this important decision. He has also ordered the Department of Education to pressure teachers and impose his genocidal orders “come rain or shine.” Although he has said there “won’t be retaliation” against those who disobey, teachers have reported being coerced and threatened by their superiors. This clearly shows the President’s lack of respect for the decisions educational communities have made regarding their schools. This imposition is causing a rise in tension and unrest among teachers and the Department of Education and non-compliance on the part of parents.
After the start of the first week of “in person” classes, it has been reported that the average school attendance in Mexico city has dropped to 20%. Now, as the second week of classes is about to begin, we will see who will decide: will it be the working class led by its teachers, or the authoritarian government in the service of big business?
The original Spanish version of this article can be found here