Minister of Education Milton Luna attempted on Thursday to clarify President Lenin Moreno’s order to reopen rural schools closed by former President Rafael Correa. The order has stirred a flurry of expectations in small communities across the country as well as scorn from some educational experts.
The reopening of the schools will be gradual and not all closed schools will reopen, Luna said. “I want to correct the impression that all schools will reopen and that it will happen in February,” he said. “We are conducting a review of closed schools and this will require some time. As of now, we don’t know the numbers of students that might return to the schools and we don’t know how many teachers we will need.”
Luna explained that the government was committing $70 million to the reopening project in 2019.
In 2012, Correa ordered the closing of 7,000 of the country’s 17,000 public schools. Most schools ordered closed had small student counts and were located in rural areas. Echoing comments made Wednesday by Moreno, Luna called the closings “arbitrary and damaging to many communities.” He added that, in many cases, the closings constituted a form of “ethnocide.”
Under Correa’s plan, students in the closed schools were transferred to larger schools, including new “millennium schools” that were built around the country. Most of the new schools are in operation today, the education ministry says.
The education ministry will reopen about 1,000 schools in 2019, Luna said, and another 1,000 in 2020. He deferred questions from reporters regarding how schools will be selected to be reopened. “This is yet to be determined.”
The ministry plans a “symbolic reopening” next week of a rural school in Chimborazo Province.
Critics of the plan attacked the lack of planning before Moreno’s announcement. “This smells of politics and once we get into the details, as Minister Luna tried to do today, it becomes obvious,” says Fabian Miller, a former assistant education minister.
“Most of the schools closed in 2012 and 2013 were closed for good reason,” says Miller. “They were literally falling down or only had five or 10 students and those students were receiving an inferior education because of combined classes. With the new announcement, some small towns expect the government to reopen schools in villages with no students at all. All the young families have moved away. They believe the school buildings will be restored for other purposes.”
Miller also criticized the $70 million allocation to reopen schools. “This is absurd,” he said. “Even if you only opened the 2,000 schools that Luna mentions, the cost in repairs alone could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. For a government that says it has no money, the entire plan is unrealistic.”