When the school year began, last March, forty children attended the La Casa Del Bosque Garden, in the Caballito neighborhood. Once the pandemic was unleashed and despite the efforts to maintain contact in a virtual way, week by week they began to be less and less. For the month of July, only three families continued to pay the institution’s fee and the owner could no longer afford to rent the space. In August and after 25 years in the neighborhood, the house on Avenida Acoyte closed its doors.
“We were between a rock and a hard place,” laments Valeria Cagnonero, a psychopedagogue and owner of the garden. “The government does not allow us to open, but who can support an institution with three students? We love our work but we have to pay taxes, salaries, contributions, rents and insurance. We are very small institutions and we are required as if we were a multinational “.
The examples are repeated throughout the city and the country: kindergartens and nursery schools, mostly private institutions, are in crisis. According to estimates by the National Board of Private Education (Junep), which brings together 15 provinces of the country, so far this year about 234 maternity and kindergartens have closed. Until July there had been 146 and they continue to be added minute by minute. The Coherencia Civil Association, which brings together entry-level institutions, raises a much higher figure: it maintains that since the mandatory isolation began, some 500 nursery schools have already closed. Together they receive – or used to receive – thousands of children who are now at home in the care of grandparents, overwhelmed parents, formal or improvised nannies.
It is not an isolated problem: one in three Argentine children goes to a private garden, according to data from the Observatorio Argentinos por la Educación. This percentage increases in infants and walkers, where there is less public offer.
Nursery schools offer a valuable assistance task for parents who must delegate the care of their children from 45 days to three years, but they are not considered compulsory education (in the country it is not until four years). Therefore, there are also establishments that do not depend on the Ministry of Education and are not accounted for. Meanwhile and in the midst of a pandemic, parents absorb the task of caring as best they can and wonder where their children will go when the mandatory isolation ends.
“We have a registry of institutions throughout the country and even with the differences in each region we are all in the same situation: 85% are on the verge of definitive bankruptcy because we have debts that we are not in a position to face,” explains Georgina Malm Green, a benchmark for Coherence.
She herself is the owner and director of a kindergarten in Villa Crespo that began the year with 45 children and in which today only 3 remain. The urgent objective for which the association claims the government is to reopen the gardens: with transparent chinstraps , outdoors, with few students per teacher. “We are in a position to open the gardens, we already have around one teacher for every ten children and everything that is hygiene and disinfection is something daily for us. Since May we are presenting possible protocols. We need to open because the children today are in an emotional emergency, “he explains.
Josefina Perosio is a lawyer and the mother of two children, one five and the other one and a half years old. Marcos, the youngest, went to a traditional nursery school in San Isidro from February 1 to March 15, when the schools were ordered to close. “Both my husband and I work fulltime and in June I completely collapsed. I asked the domestic worker who works at home – then once a week – to come more days to give me a hand. Starting in August they gave us a discount on the garden and it broke our souls, but the reality is that we could not afford all the expenses “. In September they received a “heartbreaking” letter from the principal explaining that the garden was closing. “He told us that he even wrote to the president asking for help but he did not receive any kind of support and that the garden went bankrupt.” Growing Together was the first official teaching kindergarten in San Isidro and it had been there since 1992. Josefina is very concerned about not knowing how she will resolve the care of her children when she has to return to work in person.
In the same district, two other nursery schools that had existed for decades closed in recent months: Mother Goose, in Del Valle Iberlucea 1966 and Sunshine, in Don Bosco 1736. “The pandemic put us owners of nursery schools in an impossible situation, I never imagined that I was going to experience something like this, “says Verónica Linder, owner of Sunshine, which has been in the San Isidro hills since 1993. “In April many parents began to ask for discounts and since then I even stopped paying taxes to be able to meet the salaries. I asked for the ATP- the State Emergency Assistance to Work and Production Program that offers a series of benefits for those who develop activities affected by the pandemic – and I was denied. ” In mid-June the garden was closed. Veronica regrets losing a life’s work without help from the state.
Strictly speaking, in the month of May and after many complaints from the sector, the National Government extended the scope of the benefits of the ATP to privately managed educational institutions. In the Buenos Aires area, the city government also launched its own direct subsidy for nurseries: the Early Childhood Economic Support Program (API). But those who had applied to the ATP could not collect it, so only 17 institutions obtained it in its first version. The second version of API II is about to be released.
According to Martín Zurita, head of the Association of Private Schools of the Province of Buenos Aires (Aiepba) and partner of Junep-, although they are received by the authorities, the reality exceeds the effort. “Today the state ATPs are not enough help for many schools whose situation is very difficult,” he explains. Minutes before, he receives a message from a Vicente López garden that communicates that it is closing after 28 years of experience.
For the owners of kindergartens, without students these aids are not enough. “If there are two boys per school it is impossible, with zero income we have to maintain the same costs. If not, by when 85% of the gardens are allowed to open, it will be closed,” says Malm.
Under the slogan “Opening and re-linking now” the representatives of nursery schools will demonstrate on Monday 19 at the headquarters of the City Government.
According to the criteria of