Since March, when the first cases Covid-19 were recorded in Argentina, one of the main issues of debate was the teaching of primary and high school lessons. The union “ADEMyS” (Buenos Aires Teacher’s association) demanded that schools be closed (even though they were already prohibited by a decree banning gatherings of more than 200 people). When the quarantine was finally made mandatory, schools were closed and replaced by virtual lessons through digital platforms.
In the first weeks of the lockdown, many teachers from state schools had to continue visiting their workplaces daily in order to organize the distribution of food from the schools’ canteens (on which many children in the country depend). This task is normally performed by the canteen staff, but due to a huge excess of work, the government of the autonomous city of Buenos Aires decided to assign this task to teachers too, without following any sanitary or hygiene protocols. There was much criticism regarding the way in which this was organised, the small amount and low quality of the food offered to children, and also the fact that it created gatherings of people (the students, their families and the workers themselves). At the time of writing, food packages are being given to families every 2 weeks, however they are still not being given enough and the workers responsible for handing the food out have no proper protection against the virus.
Also, many of the state’s services that were suspended are redeploying workers in tasks that are in theory “voluntary”, although it is generally understood that anyone who refuses them puts their job at risk. This means many teachers feel obliged to carry out jobs in school canteens and even in hotels that are being used as quarantine sites for people who have recently been repatriated by plane to the country.
Regarding online work, in most state schools there is a general lack of resources and training in digital technology, meaning its forced implementation isn’t translated into a reality for teachers and students. Many comrades said that one of the consequences of social isolation is the fragmentation between workers, which is an obstacle to collective struggle. However, they said there was a general rejection by teachers of the idea of the evaluation and accreditation of knowledge through virtual means.
In the state of Córdoba, teachers in kindergarten and municipal schools went on strike from their online activities when 200 supply teachers did not receive their wages. In many state schools these measures didn’t have much force since the virtual classes are only taking place in a very rudimentary way. The general situation is that educational work is transferred to the children’s carers, meaning in most cases it simply adds to unpaid domestic labour.
A lot of teachers are the subject of this double exploitation at school and at home, which is what drives many of them to demand paid leave to dedicate themselves to caring at home. Also many university institutions insist that lectures continue in order not to have the semester canceled, which they do through the hyper-exploition of their workers. Mandatory quarantine has enforced a restructuring of domestic work, and teachers that have to do virtual lessons not only end up having to quickly learn about the new digital tools but to do this while their children are studying at home. In many households there are only one or two computers available, which must also be shared with the rest of the family. Most of the tasks are being taken on by women, which means that all professional and teaching activities are on top of caring for and educating their own children, as well as cleaning and shopping for household supplies.