Author: Antonella Rojas Rivera
The purpose of this article is to present a balance regarding the challenges of the digital gap in education access in the Peruvian context for the year 2021. Due to the emergency caused by Covid-19, "most countries in the region have implemented distance education strategies to guarantee that children and adolescents continue with their learning process" (García, 2020, p. 15). In Peru’s case, they have "gone further and acquired tablets and data plans for students in rural areas, so that they can have access to the digital platforms designed for distance education" (García, 2020, p. 16). However, as Centeno (2009) points out, "the State in Latin America lacks fundamental institutional capacities" (p. 24)
In that sense, it is pertinent to ask ourselves about the performance of the distance education strategies considering the political, social, economic and institutional context of the country. In this way, the following four topics will be addressed. In the first place, we will mention the discussion of the Public Budget Bill for 2021. In second place, the progress made in terms of the delivery of tablets by the Ministry of Education (MINEDU) will be illustrated. In third, the digital gaps in Latin America, particularly in Peru, will be mentioned. Then, some characteristics to consider of the households in Peru will be presented. Finally, the main challenges and conclusions will be presented.
Education in the Public Budget
On Monday November 30th, the deadline for the approval of the Public Budget Bill for the year 2021 expires. The Bill was presented to Congress on August 28th. However, it is still being debated. According to the MEF (2020),"this is the main instrument of State management, to provide greater welfare to citizens through an efficient and effective allocation of public resources, according to the availability of public funds. (page 4)
The construction of the public budget consists of 4 stages. First, between the months of January and August, it is programmed and formulated. Secondly, between the months of September and November, the Bill is supported by the Congressional Budget Committee. Afterwards, it is debated and approved in the plenary session of Congress. Thirdly, between January and December of the following year, it is executed and followed up. Finally, the respective evaluation is carried out.
It is important to note that the amount proposed for the 2021 public budget amounts to a total of 183, 029, 770, 158 million soles. In particular, the government noted that it is "giving priority to the social sectors in health and education, announcing that social spending for 2021 will amount to 69.758 million soles, which represents 38.1% of the public sector budget" (Gestión Pública y Control, 2020, p. 74).
Regarding the budget for the education sector, 32.715 million soles will be assigned to this sector, representing approximately 17% of the public budget. However, this amount includes 965 million soles destined for the "strategy of distance education and closing the digital gap" (MEF, 2020, p. 12).
Program“Aprendo en casa”: progress in closing digital gaps
Delgado (2020) points out that "in closing schools, the education system adopted to implement the “Aprendo en casa” program (p. 5), meant an effort for distance education. Since the connectivity gap in Peru is significant, the program "has been broadcast on television and radio. More than 1,000 radio stations in all regions of the country broadcast the sessions in Spanish and nine native languages". (Delgado, 2020, p. 4) However, this is not enough as there are still geographical areas where the radio signal is precarious. Thus, the government has prioritized the acquisition and distribution of tablets.
Supreme Decree No. 006-2020-MINEDU, issued on May 9, approved the criteria for targeting beneficiaries in order to guarantee the continuity of the educational service. According to this document, one type of beneficiary is the students. For that reason, the prioritized good or service is 1) tablet with digital educational content, 2) mobile internet incorporated in the tablet and 3) solar charger received with the tablet.
According to each good or service, selection criteria are established and verified through various verification sources such as the “Sistema Focalizado de Hogares” (SISFO), among others. Some of these criteria are 1) to be enrolled in a regular basic educational institution, 2) the geographic area where the student is located, and 3) to be in a home that does not have any type of electrical energy source, among others.
The Minister of Education, Martín Benavides, participated in the conference "Closing the Digital Gap, Opening the Way to a New Education" held on Thursday, October 15 and organized by CARE Peru. The Minister commented that the first phase of tablet delivery has already begun, which will benefit approximately 1 million students. He also shared that the Ministry is already working on the design of the second phase of tablet delivery to reach approximately another 300 thousand students in geographic areas where there is poor connectivity. Finally, when asked about the “Aprendo en Casa” strategy, he said that it is here to stay.
Digital divide in Latin America and Peru
Distance education is possible as long as households have a number of resources that allow them to learn from home. García (2020) proposes as fundamental resources "the availability of books and educational materials at home, the availability of a place to study, access to some electronic device and connectivity, and the support and involvement of their parents in the learning process" (p. 8).
CAF (2020) states that "Internet penetration in Latin America is 68.66%. This value in itself reveals the first obstacle to tackling COVID-19 through the use of digital technologies" (page 18). It should be noted that Internet penetration refers to the "number of access devices in the home" (p. 18). Peru is below the indicated average, since internet penetration in 2018, 2019 and 2020 is 52, 54%, 56.65% and 61.08% respectively.
In terms of access to electronic devices in the home by socioeconomic level, the situation is even more dramatic. In the case of Peru, the top quintile has clear access to 1) at least one computer in the home and 2) at least one tablet in the home as can be seen in the attached tables. However, in terms of access to a cell phone with internet, the top quintile averages around 60%.
Finally, as seen in the tables below, in the case of Peru, there is a gap in access to a space for home study. Specifically, this gap is of a social-economic nature in that students from the lowest quintile are at a disadvantage compared to the highest quintile.
Peruvian Homes and Covid 19
Clausen (2020) points out that, according to a study by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), certain factors could be associated with a higher prevalence of Covid-19. Some indicators considered in the Peruvian case are overcrowded homes, lack of access to sanitation, lack of access to a refrigerator and the presence of people suffering from chronic diseases. The result of the study applied in Peru, based on the 2018 “Encuesta Nacional de Hogares” (ENAHO), is that "a little less than a third of the people in Peru live in households with 3 of these 6 deprivations at the national level" (p. 57).
With regard to the employment situation in households, it is important to specify some figures. On the one hand, "of the almost 17 million workers in the country, nearly 3 million (one in every six) work (...) have an indefinite work contract" (Jaramillo & Ñopo, 2020, p. 10). Likewise, of the "nearly 17 million Peruvian workers, just over 13 million are in urban areas" (Jaramillo & Ñopo, 2020, p. 10). Finally, "31% of them have formal employment in their main occupation, a rate similar to the national one. It is also interesting to note that of these workers who are the sole breadwinners for their households, 15% have more than one job" (Jaramillo & Ñopo, 2020, p. 11).
Challenges and conclusions
Throughout this article, we have outlined some of the current challenges when implementing distance education strategies. In this particular case, the government's initiative to address Covid-19 in terms of education has been the “Aprendo en Casa” program. Therefore, the delivery of tablets to students with limited connectivity.
However, as it has been presented, problems persist that are not necessarily contemplated in the budget for closing digital gaps. In the first place, the capacity of the state in Latin America presents certain problems; thus, Peru’s the situation is not far off. In that sense, the distribution and use of tablets could present certain implementation challenges.
 This refers to being at the primary or secondary level.  Conversation "Closing the digital gap, making way for a new education" transmitted via facebook on Thursday, October 15, 2020. https://fb.watch/19OrB5Jcy_/
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