Ecuador teen teaches class under a tree for kids without internet

By Santiago Arcos

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador, July 14 (Reuters) - An Ecuadorean teenager has set up an improvised school under a tree in a poor neighborhood of northern Guayaquil for some 40 students who haven't been able to study during the novel coronavirus lockdown for lack of internet access.

Almost nobody in the Reality of God neighborhood has a computer or a cellphone with a data plan, leaving children unable to participate in the online education that has replaced regular schooling under the coronavirus health emergency.

Denisse Toala, 16, meets with kids and uses her cellphone to check school websites to see what homework has been assigned, which they would be unable to do on their own.

"COVID-19 has caused difficulties on the economic front, but especially in education," said Toala, who is her final years of high school. "They deserve an education."

Under the tree where they meet, she has set up a blackboard, educational posters and a welcome sign that reads: "Learn to teach."

UNICEF Ecuador in May said only 37% of the country's households have internet access. As a result, it said, "6 out of 10 children cannot continue their studies on digital platforms."

The report said the situation is more serious in rural areas, where only 16% of households have internet access.

The Telecommunications Ministry has acknowledged the problem and says it is working on ways to boost internet availability.

Parents say Toala is helping their kids keep up with their studies amid the pandemic, which in March and April overwhelmed Guayaquil's medical services.

"There is no internet, there is no (cell) signal and my children would have lost a year (of school) if not for the tree and the teacher," said Gina Perez, whose four children study every afternoon at the makeshift school.

(Writing by Alexandra Valencia and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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