By Ignacio Otero Honrado
It is undeniable that students have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many institutions and organizations have started to investigate how the lack of practical and physical classes may affect the performance and psyche of students worldwide. During uncertain times like these, people start to acknowledge that many of the things we always take for granted may be more valuable than we thought.
Education is one of those words that may come to mind when thinking about the consequences of COVID-19. Unfortunately, this pandemic is not the only factor that affects the lack of education or its quality standards. Every government boasts of fighting for education and equality of opportunities, but it is well known that this is not the case worldwide.
In the following article, I will introduce you to the story of Esteban Cichello Hubner – now, tutor at the University of Oxford, many years ago, one more victim of the eight million poor children that live in Argentina. More precisely, we will explore how the absence of efficient policy and the structural poverty in Argentina affects the lives of millions of children. We will also discover how the motivation and determination of a single individual won against poverty. Lastly, I will suggest a set of interesting questions about the future of education and our role as students.
According to the last report available, forty-two percent of Argentina’s population suffers from Urban poverty (which affects more than fifty-seven percent of children in the country). More than ten percent of that group suffer from extreme poverty.
This situation has been worsening year by year, government by government.
It does not matter which ideology represents the governing party; Argentina’s economy has been declining for several years. Due to the high rate of insecurity, lack of funds, and the high levels of corruption, parents struggle to provide their children with basic education. Even though Argentina was well known for its high standards in education in Latin America, its education system is suffering from extreme disparities. No government was able to respond to this crisis and this inevitably led to increased desperation among the population, which resulted in feelings of faithlessness and anxiety. Unfortunately, this feeling of disbelief characterizes Latin America as a whole, a region that has been suffocated by high levels of corruption, economic crisis, and ever-growing inequalities.
It is essential to understand that we talk about children suffering, destroyed families, and desperate communities. In such a context, youngsters are in danger of getting robbed, introduced to drugs, or forced to work all day. Families cannot take their children to school, and they spend all their hours working on getting the most money they can to buy one meal per day. Even when they can, classes are always at risk of being shut down. The very poor structure of schools and the many corporative syndicates make it very difficult for institutions to accomplish a whole academic year. This environment makes it almost impossible for kids to read books, practice the language basics, or have a safe social interaction with other classmates.
Meanwhile, leaders meet in huge buildings, discuss for hours, enjoy top meals and drinks, but do not reach efficient agreements. Sometimes, they even enjoy the privilege of spending hours on social media like Twitter, Instagram, or Tik Tok. It is, therefore, clear that they are way too far away from the reality of ordinary people.
It seems impossible for a child to develop in such an environment properly – one where drugs are right in front of your house and danger is all around you. Nevertheless, sometimes there are exceptions to the rule – Esteban is one of them. Born in the middle of pastures in Buenos Aires, he suffered from child labor and family abuse. As a consequence of his devastating reality, Esteban only found one way to abstract himself from it: reading books and going to school. Even though it was not easy to make it to school every day, Esteban would count the days waiting for the school to open its doors again. The school meant education and contention, clean water, soap, heating, and love for him. He was deeply involved in his school, given that it was a safe community, a safe place. His extraordinary motivation allowed him to overcome poverty and study many languages. He accomplished his biggest dream – being a professor at the University of Oxford.
Even though this story is evidence of how hard work and passion produce results, we cannot forget that not every child under these circumstances can win the war against poverty. Not only is this not improving, but it is also getting worse and worse every second. Argentina is blinded by political contestation and hostility, corruption, and interests that do not correspond with the reality of the population.
Many questions can be asked; only a little can be responded to
The implications that these adverse economic reports bring to the country are still unknown. Until when are the Argentine people willing to suffer? When are the many well-established political parties of the country going to start the fight for debate, consent, dialogue, and union?
Fundamentally, what are politicians waiting to hold accountable for their actions – and inaction?
Moreover, for us students, this incredible story brings up many interesting implications. Most international students have the opportunity of being able to study in well-established high schools, and even though we all encounter different challenges and issues, we do have access to the most basic needs. Sometimes it is hard to find the motivation to work and learn, but we should always keep in mind that our opportunities are countless. What are we waiting for? There is an endless world of knowledge and information. Whatever we are passionate about, we are a second away from looking it up and starting a new journey. At the end of the day, learning new things is the only way to feed our talent.
A passion for learning is a passion for life.
It is fundamental to be aware of our privilege and endlessly work towards a world where opportunities for everyone are the rule. Esteban is an inspirational example of hard work and we must ensure that every child has a healthy opportunity structure and complete education. Latin America has been suffering for way too long. Luxury food for only a few or intense tweeting will not solve this structural degradation in the region.
Edited by Urte Drabataite, artwork by Kim Ville