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Listen, Watch, Learn: Peru's school system takes to the airwaves | The Listening Post (Feature)

March 16, 2020, was the day Peruvian parents, teachers, and students had been preparing for - the beginning of the new school year.

But on March 15, the president appeared on national TV to declare a state of emergency and a strict nationwide lockdown.

"One day I got a call from the chairman of the network," Fatima Saldonid, a journalist and newsreader on the public broadcaster, TV Peru, told The Listening Post's Meenakshi Ravi. "He told me schools were being shut, and the Education Ministry had asked us to produce an education-from-home programme. Then he said, 'you're going to be one of the presenters'. Well, I like a challenge, so I said, 'Let's do it!'"

To call it a "challenge" would be an understatement; Aprendo en Casa (I Learn at Home) aims to put on air the core syllabus of Peru's primary and secondary school curricula, amounting to six hours of TV programming every weekday. While other countries have experimented with delivering classes to children online, authorities in Peru knew this was not an option for a country where more than 40 percent of the population does not have internet access.

"Television is one of the most used mediums," explains Diana Marchena, planning coordinator at Peru's Ministry of Education. "The internet doesn't have the same reach here as television, so we were determined that a child's progress must not depend on whether they have access to the internet."

To ensure Aprendo en Casa could reach as many children in the country as possible, the government coordinated closely not only with TV Peru, but with private channels and radio stations as well.

"No one could have guessed this sort of thing could happen," says Ernesto Cortes, general manager of the RPP Group, a private network of TV channels and radio stations that are helping to broadcast Aprendo en Casa.

"I can't recall a situation in which, for the shared goal of public education, both private and public media have united... I think it's the first time for something of this magnitude."

The show has proven to be a hit, quickly becoming one of the most-watched TV programmes in Peru. It has provided schoolteachers across the country with a vital resource with which to maintain the progress of their students.

"Watching the TV broadcasts, I am struck by how dynamic the presenters are!" says Victor Zapata, a schoolteacher in the capital, Lima. Every day, he tells his students to watch the show and assigns tasks based on the broadcast. "TV has lots of resources, and they are making the most of them. A teacher in a classroom does not have such resources. Of course, if I had them, I'd use them gladly!"

But some have struggled to benefit.

"The children I teach have nowhere near the same resources that children in cities have," says Marlith Norabuena, a teacher in rural Peru. "For example, when it rains or there are changes in the weather, the TV, radio and internet signals - which are already very weak - just stop working altogether."

While the limitations of the government's strategy have highlighted deep structural inequality in the country, the success of Aprendo en Casa has demonstrated the power of the media, both public and private, to improve prospects for young people in Peru.

"With Aprendo en Casa we're at the start of a new process," says Saldonid. "We have an opportunity to take a fresh look at education ... We have a great chance to create the kind of society we aspire to. But to get there, we need to work from the ground up. And society's foundations are its children."

Produced by: Meenakshi Ravi, Luciano Gorriti and Ahmed Madi


Ernesto Cortes - General manager, RPP Group

Diana Marchena - Planning coordinator, Ministry of Education, Peru

Victor Zapata - Lima-based secondary school teacher

Fatima Saldonid - Presenter, Aprendo en Casa and broadcaster, TV Peru

Marlith Norabuena - Rural school teacher

More: https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/
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