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Get up early, shower, and sit at the table for a quick desayuno of bread with jam, some cookies, and either coffee or tea for the grownups. “I miss this, the waking up routine, always in a rush,” said Mariana Yoko Jiménez Arzate, resident mom and conductor of this early morning orchestra, knowing that this year will be different.

The normal post-breakfast step is a mad dash to school a few blocks away. But the 2020 version of that dash will end just 10 feet away, in the living room of the apartment in Mexico City’s Moctezuma neighborhood. That’s where both Jiménez kids will do most of their learning this semester — by watching TV.

“It’s good we’re still having class,” said Mariana’s 12-year-old daughter Giselle. “But I’m sad because I was going to start high school and meet new people.”

Mexico’s government won’t allow in-person classes this year, which means Mexico’s 30 million students will all be forced to learn remotely.

Officials say the coronavirus pandemic — which has claimed roughly 60,000 lives amid more than 550,000 confirmed cases — is still too dangerous to allow kids back in the classroom.

Remote learning is difficult even in developed countries. But in places like Mexico, taking that English or math class online isn’t so easy — only 56% of households have access to the internet, according to government statistics.

So if the law requires all Mexican kids to be offered a public education, the government has decided the best way to do that is over the airwaves, with 93% of households having a television.

Lights, camera … classes

Inside a brightly lit studio at Mexico City TV station Channel 11 last week, fifth grade teacher Omar Morales squinted as a young man with bright purple hair applied makeup to his face.

“Ok, this is your floor director,” a producer told him. “She is your eyes and ears out here, listen to what she tells you, look at the camera she tells you to look at and you’ll be fine.”

This time last year, Morales was just a public school teacher setting up his classroom, getting ready to hug his kids on their first day of school.

Now, part actor, part teacher, he practiced delivering a lesson plan about the elements of sound that will eventually be watched by millions.

“It’s challenging,” he says modestly. “It’s no longer 40 kids in a class where I know their names, passions, their favorite games. Here, I’m locked in a set, but I know there’s millions of kids out there who still need that knowledge.”

Morales is part of an ambitious government plan to record a comprehensive set of lessons for all grade levels pre-K through high school and then broadcast them on TV.

It has worked out agreements with different TV channels to broadcast that content, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, with different grade levels at different hours.

Omar Morales, right, part actor, part teacher, practices delivering a lesson plan about the elements of sound that will eventually be watched by millions.

The government will also use radio programs to reach kids with no TV or internet, the majority of which the government says live in remote indigenous communities.

“There is no precedent for something this big,” said Rodolfo Lara Ponte, who runs the radio education program during the pandemic.

“We have planned to have 640 programs, across 18 radio stations in 15 states of the country,” he said, adding many are recorded in indigenous languages unique to different regions.

For now, both the TV and radio programs will run through December but everything is subject to change based on how the pandemic plays out here over the next several months.

Government officials overseeing the program uniformly say the goal is to get kids back in the classroom as soon as possible, but for now, they say they’re doing their best.

“It was a tough decision not to reopen schools,” said Maria Meléndez, the ministry’s Director of Curriculum Development. “But by doing the TV and radio classes, that means not letting the education gap get wider.”

Mind the gap

“Education gap” is a polite way of saying that rich kids often get better educations than poor kids.

This was a problem in Mexico even before the coronavirus forced schools to close in March. For example, relatively wealthy Mexico City saw a 92% secondary, or high-school level, education enrollment rate as of 2019. In the much poorer state of Chiapas, that rate stood at only 59%.

But the pandemic could exacerbate what was already an acute problem — and television and radio can’t solve underlying disparities.

You don’t need to be an education expert to conclude that wealthier students with internet access and the ability to interact with a teacher, even remotely, might fare better than those who get their classes the same way they watch cartoons.

Teachers' unions are leading the push for more coronavirus protections at schools

“Their only learning this year will be what they get from a TV,” said Erandi Jacobo Martínez, a public school teacher in Coyoacán, a charming southern barrio in Mexico City. “And if they have any questions, our ability to help will be really limited.”

Another issue is evaluation. The Ministry of Education says it’s devaluing quantifying student progress for the moment, not only because it’s difficult to do but because of the added stress it could place on students.

“Talking about evaluations is ambitious and I think it’s not where we are right now,” said Meléndez. “When kids return to school, they will be evaluated for what they’ve learned.”

In the meantime, the burden on parents, already high during any normal school year, will dramatically increase this year. If kids are going to make progress, parents in the home will be the primary driving force.

“If we cannot see them, we have to trust in the parents that they share with us about their kids and what they’re working on,” said Martínez.

‘You have to adapt’

Mariana, the single mom who works from home, says she is ready for the challenge. She’s even prepared daily schedules for her daughter, 12-year-old Giselle, and for her neighbors’ two young daughters, Tania, 6, and Fatima, 9.

“It has to work,” she told us over a steaming cup of green tea. “You can’t ever compare this to in-person classes but we need to give our all. We need to adapt.”

Tania and Fatima agree — mostly. We asked them what they’d miss about not going to school.

“My friends,” said Tania. “And my teacher.”

For kids, there are some things even a little extra TV time can’t fix.

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Delhi sees deadliest month amid raging pandemic

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India has the second highest number of Covid cases in the world. November was the deadliest month for the capital Delhi, which has been struggling to contain the virus, with more than 100 deaths on some days.

The death toll has overwhelmed the Indian capital’s crematoriums, where many families say goodbye to their loved ones in ancient rituals.

A lack of social distancing at the city’s markets has been blamed for the recent uptick. Some hospitals have run out of ICU beds – with pollution and cold weather adding to the burden.

Cases are starting to fall, but doctors warn that if people don’t take care, the situation could get worse again, as the BBC’s South Asia correspondent Rajini Vaidyanathan reports.

Produced by Kunal Sehgal, Shalu Yadav and Greg Brosnan.

Filmed and edited by Varun Nayar.

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India farmers protests: Thousands swarm Delhi against deregulation rules

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Farmers from the nearby states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh began arriving by tractors and on foot at the outskirts of New Delhi last week, where they blocked roads and set up makeshift camps, according to protest leaders. Some slept on the road or in their tractors, and several places of worship offered protesters food.

Police attempted to block demonstrators from entering the city. They fired tear gas and water cannons Thursday and Friday after protesters pelted police officers with stones and damaged public property, according to Manoj Yadav, a senior police official from Haryana.

The farmers are protesting laws passed in September, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says will give farmers more autonomy to set their own prices and sell directly to private businesses, such as supermarket chains.

But the move has infuriated India’s farmers, who say that the new rules will leave them worse off by making it easier for corporates to exploit agricultural workers who make up more than half of India’s 480 million-strong workforce, according to India’s most recent Census in 2011.

According to Ashutosh Mishra, the media coordinator of protest organizer All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee, which represents around 200 farming unions, tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered at each of New Delhi’s three borders — a line of protesters at one of the borders stretches for 30 kilometers (19 miles), he said.

Police have put up barriers and dug up roads to prevent protesters from coming into the city center to hold sit-ins. Mishra expects more farmers from around the country to join the protests in the coming days.

That’s despite New Delhi being a hotspot for Covid-19 in a country that has already reported more than 9.4 million reported cases, the most in any country bar the United States.

“We are trying to be weary of Covid but we don’t have an option — it is a question of life and death,” said Mukut Singh, the president of a farmers union in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, who is leading thousands in protest in his home state, and says he will join the protesters in Delhi later this week.

“We are the ones who have provided food, milk, vegetables when the whole country was in lockdown — we were still toiling in the fields,” he said. “It is the government who has put us at risk by introducing these laws during Covid.”

What the protests are about

For decades, the Indian government has offered guaranteed prices to farmers for certain crops, providing long-term certainty that allows them to make investments for the next crop cycle.

Under the previous laws, farmers had to sell their goods at auction at their state’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee, where they were guaranteed to get at least the government-agreed minimum price. There were restrictions on who could purchase at auction and prices were capped for essential commodities.

Modi’s new laws dismantle the committee structure, allowing farmers to sell their goods to anyone for any price. Farmers have more freedom to do things such as sell direct to buyers and sell to other states.

Modi said increasing market competition would be a good thing as it fulfills farmers’ demands for higher income and gives them new rights and opportunities.

“The farmers should get the advantage of a big and comprehensive market which opens our country to global markets,” Modi said on Monday, as farmers protested in the capital. He hopes it will attract private investment into the agricultural industry, which has lagged as other parts of the country’s economy have modernized.

But farmers argue that the rules could help big companies drive down prices. While farmers could sell crops at elevated prices if the demand is there, conversely, they could struggle to meet the minimum price in years when there is too much supply in the market.

Singh, the Uttar Pradesh farmer, said that removing the price guarantees will make life tougher for farmers.

“There is a lot of anger among farmers,” he said. “We don’t get even the minimum support price that is presently declared — removing these protections and making it easier for corporates to enter will completely buy us out.”

Why it’s such a hot political issues

Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India’s 1.3 billion population, meaning farmers are the biggest voter block in the country.

That’s made farming a central political issue, with farmers arguing for years to get the minimum guaranteed prices increased.

Security personnel deployed to stop farmers from entering the national capital during a protest against the Centre's new farm laws at Singhu border near Delhi, India on November 30, 2020.
In a bid to win over farmers, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said in its 2014 general election manifesto that all crop prices should be fixed at a minimum of 50% higher than the production costs. In 2016, Modi promised to boost the country’s agriculture sector with a target of doubling the income of farmers by 2022.

Modi and his government continue to insist that they are supporting farmers.

He hailed the new laws as a “watershed moment” which will ensure a complete transformation of the agriculture sector. But besides calling the move long overdue, Modi has not said why he opted to introduce these measures during the pandemic, which has caused India to suffer its first recession in decades.

“The Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi has always stood in full commitment to resolving the problems faced by farmers and will continue to stand by them,” said Narendra Singh Tomar, the Minister of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare.

Tomar urged farmers to abandon their protests and instead discuss their issues with the government — although so far, Modi has shown no sign of capitulating to protesters’ demands.



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House steering panel backs DeLauro for Appropriations chair

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While the full caucus typically backs the Steering Committee’s pick, an upset has occurred as recently as 2014.

Lawmakers and aides watching the race expect it will be decided on a second round of voting for DeLauro and Wasserman Schultz, with allies of the Florida Democrat hopeful she can eke out a win with the help of Kaptur supporters forced to throw their support behind another candidate. The Ohio Democrat is not expected to secure enough support on the first ballot.

Kaptur, 74, the most senior Democrat on the spending panel and the longest-serving woman in Congress, has won support from many members of the Congressional Black Caucus — a powerful bloc that typically respects seniority in leadership elections. Supporters of Wasserman Schultz say she could win if she can secure even some of those votes.

DeLauro’s supporters, however, are confident that the close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and long-time champion of the public health and education communities will be confirmed as chair.

Pelosi typically doesn’t get involved in steering races after she publicly backed Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) in 2014, who won the steering panel’s nod to become the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2014, only to lose the spot in a stunning caucus-wide vote. The caucus instead chose Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who went on to become Energy and Commerce chair.

DeLauro — the second-most senior contender for the gavel who controls the largest chunk of nondefense spending as the head of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee — has long been expected to lead the appropriations panel and has a reputation for working with senior Republican appropriators like Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

DeLauro, 77, is a “work horse” and a “force of nature,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), who’s pushing her colleagues to vote for the Connecticut Democrat, in an interview last month. “Her appeal is that she has integrity, that she has wisdom, that she’s such a hard worker and a strong fighter for the issues that she cares about.“

Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Military Construction-VA spending panel, has been expected to pick up support from freshmen, moderates and some members of the CBC. Supporters point to her robust fundraising for Democrats — particularly for vulnerable members that will be crucial to keeping the House majority in 2022.

Some Democrats said a disappointing Election Day that cost the party more than a half-dozen House seats underscores the need for change, including a more moderate candidate that could bring generational diversity to the leadership ranks.

“I think that in the aftermath of the election, it makes clear that the old ways of doing things just aren’t going to work anymore,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats who supports Wasserman Schultz, said last month.

The three Democrats are vying to succeed retiring Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the first woman ever to lead the spending panel. All three have vowed to make the appropriations process more transparent and accessible to members, while supporting the return of earmarked spending to help Democrats secure cash for pet projects at home.

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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