Virtual poverty: telematic education of the Chilean family in the context of a pandemic.

Dr. Juan Pablo Faúndez Allier, Director of the Programme of Sciences for the Family, Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaiso, Chile.

In the midst of the applied work that has led us to deepen the analysis of the Chilean family as an educational subject –one of the perspectives commissioned by the Family International Monitor within the framework of the world-wide investigation on 'Family and relational poverty'– we have been surprised by the recent global health crisis that has forced us to review what are the conditions of possibility to implement the educational strategies through the platforms. With some modesty, computer experts from Chilean schools and universities have found themselves in the "dream environment" that would prove, once and for all, the irreversible fact that we are moving towards virtuality in a universal and transversal way in the different teaching processes. Finally!

But this quick enthusiasm for enhancing the virtues of the virtual system, also in a hasty and almost paradoxical way, is helping us to show that face-to-face contact in the classroom is essential, not only to perceive the faces of all the interlocutors directly, and to receive that simultaneous and collective feedback that allows us to grasp where we can take turns and repetitions in the act of transmitting knowledge, but also because, in addition, every teaching process with face-to-face contact stimulates in the participants a state of sensitivity that opens us up to emotionally connect with the sources of learning.

And going beyond, from a perspective directly related to the multidimensional link of poverty, a deeper evaluation of the digital teaching process is opening us up to a new problem. This is because, with the aim of demonstrating in the virtual world the possibility of achieving, once and for all, a definitive reduction in the social gaps that were present in the traditional strategies of pre-virtual knowledge transmission, the mere fact of having digital access is proving to be insufficient to achieve greater equality and social justice in the education system. In this sense, relevant data show that, in the case of Chile, the accessibility to the internet in the households and in the coverage of plans that can effectively be at the permanent service of tele-education, reaches 87.4% of households of the inhabited territory of the country.

This could lead us to think that with this scope the conditions would be in place to begin a new era that would allow the turning point of social differences to be reached, encouraged by the great accessibility to the system. However, recent evidence on the practical use of technology in households shows that the mere availability of connectivity does not ensure that progress will be made towards an usage that improves educational conditions. What is stated in the background of our research, in this sense, is that social differences have serious repercussions in relation to the domestic environment in which each student must access the virtual scenario. This is because it is not the same to follow an online class in a silent 150 square metre house where 4 people live, as in a 50 square metre apartment where the same number of inhabitants live. This is now becoming even more dramatic with the overcrowded conditions in which many families that are in quarantine because of Covid-19 are living. In other words, the favourable budgets for adequate virtual education are not only based on the fact that they have the telematic means, but also on the space and the atmosphere that are ideal for learning. And regarding this, the home and the modes of personal interrelationship within it play a fundamental role. It is in the family context where the success or failure of this new teaching method could be achieved, which must not only have a screen, but fundamentally an adequate environment. And that leads us to verify that the deepening of the gap that highlights the differences of social classes, measured from the poverty factor, becomes very difficult to overcome in this new context.

Even the new digital scenario may be even more inhospitable than we think. Various sources estimate that in 15 years' time a significant number of the professions and trades we know today will disappear, and new areas that are not even precisely defined at present will emerge. Most of them will only be accessible from the virtual environment. If there are already 30 million "NEET" in Latin America, that is, people who are not in education, employment or training when they are old enough to do so, our country occupies a significant place in this calculation, ranking among the six countries with the highest number of "NEET" in the OECD: 18.8% of young people between 15 and 29 years of age (almost 600,000 people) do not work or study in Chile. This is a percentage of the population that could clearly increase in the new digital labour context. It is not necessary to venture much, therefore, to project that the future of a world that accelerates towards virtuality will continue to deepen the gap between those who have greater possibilities of development and those who are deprived of them. In other words, we are opening up to a worrying scenario that leads us towards an unprecedented form of deprivation that seems to open up a new biblical perspective on the poor who will always be among us: those who embody virtual poverty. This is a new evangelising challenge.