Pandemic highlights education inequities in the Dominican Republic

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The Flag of the Dominican Republican

By Shannon Garrido, Deputy Opinion Editor

On Feb. 14, the Dominican Republic’s Minister of Education, Roberto Fulcar, affirmed that there is still no set date for the return of students to the classrooms. He said that decision will depend on the spread of coronavirus across the country in the coming weeks and months. 

For private school students with access to the tools of virtual learning, this is not big news. However, for the 80 percent of Dominican students who attend public schools, this delay in their education will only increase the gap of inequality they already suffer from.

What started as a three-day suspension of in-person classes last March, turned into the vast majority of Dominican students not stepping foot in a classroom for almost a year. Members of the Rethinking Education Manifesto (RED), a movement made up of 42 Dominican educators with the purpose of contributing to redesigning Dominican education, explained that classes across the country do not have the necessary tools to convert to virtual classes, so hundreds of thousands of students are left without access to education, which only deepens financial inequalities and injustices. 

Education inequality is an issue that is only expected to grow if these students are not enrolled in proper schooling for long periods. 

This situation has already caused so much damage to young students’ development, even if we don’t see it yet. A large portion of the country has missed a full year of in-person classes while a smaller, more privileged percentage continues to operate. Needless to say, the level of inequality could be unprecedented after the pandemic.

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In September of last year, it was reported that 91.4 percent of Dominican public school students who took online classes did so via the freeware messaging platform WhatsApp, through which they connected with their online classes for four hours or less per day, according to El Diario Libre. Of that group, 41 percent of students managed less than two hours of schooling a day.

After canceling classes in March 2020, the Ministry of Education did not organize a plan for distanced classes until November. When analyzed objectively, that plan has done little to nothing for students’ education. 

The Ministry of Education model contracted more than 150 television stations and 100 national channels and cable companies to transmit educational content to students. In a nutshell, classes are held on TV. They are not interactive in the slightest, and it is ineffective in getting students to do the work. Only 26.5 percent of students used the booklets provided by the Ministry of Education (MINERD), according to El Diario Libre. Although there is no evidence to demonstrate the quality of education students are gaining through televised classes in the DR, other countries have struggled with similar programs. Take Mexico for example, which reported that television classes present challenges for families, by taking into account the many students who do not have sufficient access to television and the internet. 

Thelma De La Rosa Garcia, executive vice president of the Private Schools Association, told The Beacon that she believes the methods used by MINERD in the Dominican Republic have failed students. The interview with Garcia was conducted in Spanish and translated to English for readers’ comprehension.  

Garcia went on to say that one of the most affected groups by this lack of proper education, in both the public and private sector, is elementary students. 

“Preschool centers have been the most affected,” Garcia says. “Students have a level of independence when they reach high school. Legally, official education begins at age six, but we know that the years before that are important for development.”

She is not wrong either. The most affected demographic of students is those at the elementary level because it’s proven that those first years of education are critical to overall development. The greatest potholes in the DR’s education system are the major inequalities in primary and secondary education, often caused by socio-economic disparities. These inequalities result in high repetition rates at the secondary level and high drop-out rates in the post-secondary sector among underprepared students. 

Around 51.5 percent of the income generated in the Dominican Republic is held by the richest 20 percent of its population, according to Marina Pasquali, a research expert covering economics. That gap would only grow if the wealthiest percent is years advanced in education, not just by time measurements, but by the quality of the education they are receiving. Private schools have a much higher quality of education because they share monetary resources that are not available to public schools. However, the majority of Dominicans can’t afford to send their kids to a private school and are left with a broken education system. 

Inequality in the sector of education is a primary concern for those living in the Dominican Republic. Although over the years the government has implemented some methods for improvement, the DR is still known to have one of the most underperforming education systems in the world.

Add the fact that kids have not gone to school for almost a year, and knowing how hard the transition to in-person schooling could be, the future looks bleak for these children. 

“Keeping it like this widens the gap, contrary to what some believe,” Garcia said. “Why? Because the middle class from now on is paying tutors, they have good internet, good equipment, and if not, they will eventually catch up. But what about the other people?” 

Garcia even goes on to admit that she knows her daughter will grow up to work in a “much more favorable and less competitive labor market” because she can provide an education that most Dominicans can’t. 

As a Dominican who had the privilege to attend private school myself, it is almost infuriating to me that it takes moving to another country and writing for my college newspaper to give this issue any international attention. The issue is so transparent, that even I can see how much a lack of education affects such a large portion of people in the Dominican Republic. 

Some prominent figures in the community of Dominican educators believe that although it is difficult, there could have been a way to avoid this shortcoming in Dominican education. 

Former Education Minister Jacqueline Malagon told The Beacon in a Zoom interview that “the [education] gap is not just digital, the gap separates two classes.”

Malagon, whose interview was also translated from Spanish to English, said that the Dominican school system should dedicate resources to improving its infrastructure so that schools can be reopened.

“There 500 or 800 schools without water, 800,000 without restrooms, 700 or 600 who do not have electricity, and 20,000 or 30,000 with tiny classrooms,” Malagon said. 

This creates a lack of classroom space so that students would not be able to socially distance properly between desks. 

With almost all businesses opened back up in the Dominican Republic, keeping kids away from good schools only keeps them in more vulnerable positions.

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