New school year begins with laptops

Peru’s school year began today, with ambitious plans from the Ministry of Education to begin distributing laptops in state schools.

Idel Vexler, the vice-minister of Education, said that the first laptops will be distributed in different schools around the country in the coming weeks, for use by children in elementary grades within a program called One Laptop per Child. The laptops are an inexpensive model that can be hand-powered.

Meanwhile, approximately eight million children returning to classes in state and private schools. Seven million children attend the 40,000 state schools nationwide, while one million go to private schools. However, a few schools remained closed in northern Peru due to continuing heavy rains and floods.

This is the second year that state schools have begun in March, which helps increase the number of teaching hours and, according to Idel Vexler, the vice-minister of education, it also helps improve the education potential. Although the summer heat is often still high in March, private schools have opened at that time for many years. Previously, the summer vacations began in mid-December and lasted until April 1.

Although there is supposed to be no registration fee at state schools (tuition is free) and the use of the school uniform is not obligatory, reality is quite different and varies with each school. A universal uniform, once used by state and private school students alike, was designed during the military government in the early 1970s and often criticized for its dull grey color. The fact that it was universal, of course, meant that it could be mass produced and inexpensive. Private schools immediately went back to their own when the military regime was over, and since then most state schools have followed suit. Also, fees are often charged for the parent-teachers association or to provide cleaning materials for each classroom. In many shanty towns, parents are required to help clean classrooms on the weekends if they cannot afford to provide the materials.

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