Photographers across Mexico have been documenting the challenges of distance learning

Sarah Mac Gillivray Corpi, 7, a second-grade student at the Liceo Franco-Mexicano, cries while hugging her dog on her bed after arguing with her parents in the family’s apartment in the Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City in June. (Luis Antonio Rojas)

MEXICO CITY — It began in January.

Schools in China closed for the Lunar New Year holiday. They didn’t reopen.

Then, schools went dark in Europe. The Middle East. Latin America.

During the first half of 2020, 1.5 billion students around the world lost out on education because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In Mexico, about 31 million children were affected. Many had struggled to learn even before the pandemic. Around half of Mexican children and adolescents live in poverty, according to UNICEF.

Mexico’s Education Ministry provided a mix of distance-learning options, including classes online or on public television. But only about half of homes have an Internet connection. And many students rely on schools for food. The shutdown meant hunger as well as reduced education.

In the spring, six photographers started documenting the lives of children affected by the school closure in a project for Quinto Elemento Lab, an independent journalism organization in Mexico City, and Trasluz Photo, a photography collective based in the southeastern state of Veracruz.

The subjects ranged from an 11-year-old who lives in a home without electricity in Veracruz to a 7-year-old in Mexico City’s upscale Polanco neighborhood.

Some children had to go into the streets to work with their parents. Others were left home alone.

Schools remain closed in Mexico as the pandemic continues to claim lives. More than 73,000 people have died of covid-19, the disease the novel coronavirus causes, according to government statistics.

Authorities have launched a massive nationwide program of instruction via TV for the fall semester. No one knows when schools will reopen.

Sarah dances with a hoop. (Luis Antonio Rojas)

Sarah Mac Gillivray Corpi, 7, reporter Stephania Corpi’s daughter, attends the private Liceo Franco-Mexicano in Mexico City’s Polanco neighborhood. The coronavirus arrived as she was adjusting to being back in Mexico after years in Costa Rica and Peru, where her father worked through 2019. “It scares me,” she says. Her great-grandmother died after being infected with the virus. Sarah followed classes on her mother’s old laptop and amused herself by doing yoga classes on Zoom, dressing up as a robot or building castles in her room. Occasionally, she has thrown tantrums, hugging Lima, her dog. She showed her father a green, spiny seed pod that had fallen from a nearby tree. “Is this covid?” she asked, tearfully. (photographer: Luis Antonio Rojas)

After classes were suspended, Briana Villafuerte Caltzontzl, 6, accompanied her mother, Diana, to work every day at a newsstand in the historic quarter of Querétaro in central Mexico. They made up exercises: The girl did an origami project they found in a magazine and copied newspaper headlines to improve her penmanship. They had no Internet access, but Briana’s aunt got the end-of-semester tests on her cellphone and provided them to her niece. She passed and watched the class graduation ceremony on the phone, excited to see her teacher again. (photographer: Selene Ugalde)

Ariadna Rojas García, 10, and her twin brother, Arturo, live in San Baltazar Campeche, in the southern state of Puebla. They tried to follow classes on TV after schools closed. But it was difficult, with classes scattered through the day. Their teacher, Aleida Perez Carballo, realized the kids needed more personalized sessions. She not only taught classes online, but she also communicated with students and their parents through the WhatsApp messaging service. “I could enter their homes virtually because they sent me photos and audio messages of their daily lives. It was very intimate,” she said. Meanwhile, she took care of her grandchildren, whose father died years ago. (photographer: Koral Carballo)

Brisa Francisco Rojas’s high school graduation was online. There were no fancy dresses, makeup artists or parties. As with much of her last semester, the ceremony took place on a 15-inch screen. At least she could continue her schooling through WhatsApp; many of her fellow students in the rural community of Jalpilla, in the state of San Luis Potosi, lacked access to the Internet. To deal with stress, Brisa, 17, harvested pineapples and bananas on the family’s land and learned recipes via YouTube. Daniela Sanchez, 18, who lives in a nearby town, also completed her last year of high school online. When she graduated, she held a tiny family gathering and projected the images of the ceremony on a wall of her house. (photographer: Mauricio Palos)

The three Martínez sisters had a frightening introduction to the coronavirus. Their father had to isolate for several weeks, fearing he’d contracted the virus. Itzel, 10, Zuria, 5, and Adhara, 3, saw him only on a video call. He was fine, but an uncle was infected. Some of their neighbors in the city of Taxco, in Guerrero state, have lost the battle with the disease. When they play on the roof, the two younger girls ask whether they will ever be able to go outside again. Their father has tried to create distractions, with Netflix and a projector, allowing the girls to imagine they are astronauts and can flee to other worlds. (photographer: Yael Martínez)

Brian Zamudio, 18, and Sara Chávez, 11, are among the 1 percent of Mexicans who do not have electricity at home. They live on the banks of the Papaloapan and Blanco rivers, which empty into the Alvarado lagoon in Veracruz. They don’t have computers, and even powering up a cellphone is hard work. “We charge the phone through solar panels, and when it has some energy, we take a boat to the other side of the river to look for a signal,” Zamudio said. Sara also had to navigate the Alvarado lagoon in search of a signal, which allowed her to submit homework and discuss questions with her teacher. (photographer: Félix Márquez)

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