Rural Library Helps Children Without Internet In Colombia


BOGOTÁ (AP) – The COVID-19 pandemic exposed digital divides in Colombia. Just 35 kilometers southeast of Bogotá, dozens of children in a rural area who do not have sufficient Internet connection must go to a nearby community library to do their homework while studying remotely.

Half a decade ago, Maribel Guerrero Solorzano, 48, converted a family home into the Los Soches Rural Community Library, which in a pandemic has helped students from the Usme village – located in Bogotá – to access Wi-Fi. “We support ourselves with volunteers and donations from NGOs, teachers and people who want to help us,” he told The Associated Press.

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They only have one computer that 45 children must take turns by appointment because no more than ten students can attend at the same time to comply with biosecurity protocols.

“I did my degree thesis on the social environment seeing the problems of children, so I decided to put my personal computer and internet payment at the service of children so that they can do their homework in the library,” Ana told AP. Jazmin Moreno, 29 years old. She and Maribel are both relatives of students in the area.

In Bogotá, four out of ten children do not have access to computers or the internet, according to the city’s Ministry of Education. The district teachers union warns that in total there are 350,000 children without connectivity.

Milena Liberato, 28, is the mother of an eight-year-old girl and does not have an internet connection at home. Every month she must allocate 50,000 pesos (approximately 15 dollars) to buy internet packages, although in the midst of the pandemic she was unemployed.

“I have to recharge (internet data), many times I can’t because I’m a single mother and I don’t have money. My cell phone is constantly switched off, so we go to the library to ask questions about what I can’t find in the books in my house, ”Liberato told the AP.

The mayor of Bogotá, Claudia López, announced in January the delivery of 105,000 tablets and computing devices that will be donated to the most vulnerable children in the first half of 2021.

“In 2021 we have the challenge of closing the digital gaps of access and connectivity of the educational community through the project (…) that contemplates, from the pedagogical support, the strengthening of digital competences at three levels: basic literacy, safe use of the Internet and creative use of information technologies, ”the Bogotá Education Secretariat told the AP.

However, the teachers union assures that this donation is not enough because it does not include 250,000 more students who do not have connectivity.

“The problem in rural areas is more serious, they cannot access the internet either in children’s homes or in schools, because they do not have full connectivity. There is no way to set up the broadband infrastructure (of the Internet), ”Andrea Sandino, director of the District Association of Educators (ADE), told the AP.

In Bogotá —as well as in several cities of the country— schools that meet the requirements to guarantee biosafety measures will implement the alternation model, which consists of combining face-to-face classes with virtual ones. According to official data, 1,020 educational institutions of the 2,200 that exist were enabled in Bogotá. The others must continue with work at home.

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Suárez contributed from Bucaramanga.

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