Saturday, July 25, 2009

Swine Flu Closes Schools

The swine flu (a.k.a. H1N1) has made its way to South America. Actually, it arrived about a month ago but it didn't really make much of an impact until it all but shut down Buenos Aires (B.A.) three weeks ago. News reports showed vacant B.A. streets and shuttered up storefronts. It was as if the Argentine capital was deserted. Tourism virtually stopped and stores and restaurants closed.

The flu outbreak coincided with Asunción's schools' two week winter break. Vacation, as students and teachers lovingly call it, started on Monday, July 6 and was originally scheduled to end on Friday, July 17. However, because of fears that the flu could spread quickly among students--especially young ones--the government decided to extend winter break another week. This fear was not unfounded since the week before winter break several schools closed early after over half of their students got the flu. In one particularly bad case, one school reported a 90% sick rate among its students.

This coming Monday, July 27 is supposed to be the first day of school after the extended winter break; however, another problem has presented itself. Public school teachers have gone on strike, demanding more pay and better working conditions. This strike has threatened to extend the already extended winter break at least another week. Paraguay's education minister has been frantically trying to resolve the strike before Monday. Unfortunately, it doesn't look good.

What originally was supposed to be a two week breather in the middle of the school year has turned into a mini summer vacation of three or, more likely, four weeks. While I am sure that students welcome an extra two weeks of no school, the fallout of such a long-lasting break will surely affect the school year. Namely, what will happen at the end of the year? Will the school year still end on its regularly scheduled day? Will it be extended an extra week or two to make up for the lost time over break? And if the school year is extended, will the teachers get paid for that extra time? Additionally, an extended school year puts summer travel plans in jeopardy, especially for those who leave immediately after school lets out (which is surprisingly common). Everything is up in the air right now. It will be interesting to see what happens over the coming weeks and months. One thing I do know; the Minister of Education's job is not one I envy.

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