New Delhi: The central government may have allowed schools to reopen in a graded manner amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but teachers don’t seem to be in favour of calling the junior classes to schools as yet.
Wary of younger students’ health, school principals told ThePrint it will not be “prudent” to open schools in this academic year for the junior classes, considering that Covid cases are “increasing day by day”.
They said junior students have got accustomed to attending online classes at home and they can continue with it until the Covid crisis wanes.
Although the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had permitted reopening of schools in October, it left the final decision on the states.
Delhi has also chosen not to reopen schools with state Education Minister Manish Sisodia Tuesday saying that schools in the national capital will not reopen until there is a Covid-19 vaccine.
Haryana, meanwhile, decided to shut down its schools after students and teachers tested positive within days of reopening. Schools in the state are shut until 30 November.
Only a handful of states, including Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and, very recently, Maharashtra, have decided to reopen schools. But while Assam has allowed students from Classes 6 to 12 to come to schools, others have reopened only for Classes 9 to 12. Students of Class 8 and below have been restricted to their homes to attend online classes.
Meanwhile, health experts ThePrint spoke to are divided on the matter. While some said children have a weak immunity and, therefore, should not go to schools, others opined there should be a graded approach in reopening schools.
‘Don’t want our teachers or students to get infected’
School principals from various parts of the country strongly believed that schools should not reopen for younger children.
Hina Desai, Principal of Birla Open Minds International School, Mumbai, said schools should not reopen for Classes 1 to 8.
“Most schools are contemplating starting schools for grades 9 to 12 keeping in mind the board exams. The point is whether schools should reopen for grades 1 to 8. The answer is no,” she told ThePrint.
“Most schools and students from grades 1 to 8 have got accustomed to online classes, which have kept the continuity in learning. Additionally, schools aim at student safety and consider that of utmost importance. Till the Covid pandemic comes under considerable control, students of lower grades can continue with virtual learning,” she added.
Alka Kapur, Principal, Modern Public School in Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh, said reopening of schools for younger children in this academic year seems very difficult.
“I do not think that it would be possible or prudent to reopen the school this academic year. One of the major reasons is that the Covid-19 related cases are increasing day by day — 59.2 million cases and 1.4 million deaths have been so far recorded worldwide,” she said.
“Further, we have seen how the cases skyrocketed in other countries that dared to open schools,” she added.
Kapur said that a survey, conducted by her school, showed that 90 per cent of the parents are not in favour of reopening the school at the moment.
“We don’t want any of our teachers or students to get infected either and become a carrier of the virus. Therefore, until the magical vaccine is found, I don’t think the parents would agree to send their children, their most valuable assets, to the schools. Thus, reopening of the school (in) this academic year seems difficult,” she added.
Keran Bahadur, Principal at Mhow-based Colonel’s Academy, also agreed to not reopen schools in this academic year.
“Until the situation gets better, schools should not reopen and (it) looks like we are not going to reopen (in) this academic year. It’s almost December and there is hardly any time before schools announce exams in March,” she said.
Kavita Gupta Sabharwal, Founder and Head of School, Neev Academy, Bengaluru, however, suggested a different approach. She said schools that have the necessary infrastructure to ensure safety of their students should reopen.
“Students elsewhere on the planet are not taking a gap year, so Indian students can’t. We must allow schools that are ready to reopen to do so based on three factors — age, location and resources. Government authorities should understand that one size does not fit all, and risk cannot be eliminated, but needs to be mitigated,” she said.
On sending younger kids to school, Gupta said: “Board years matter, but it is as important, if not more, for younger children to come back to school. Preschool and primary students’ learning gaps impact their future learning potential.”
Graded approach in reopening of schools
Health experts, meanwhile, are divided in their suggestions on reopening of schools for children.
Dr Anand Lakshman, a public health specialist who works on school health, said there was a trend of children catching the infection even when there was a lockdown and when schools were shut, so there is a need to have a graded approach in reopening of schools.
“The sero survey in Delhi showed that 35 per cent of children were infected with Covid, this happened despite the shutting down of schools. What we need is a graded approach, every state/district needs its own sero survey or data collection to find the Covid trend,” he said.
“Both the Centre for Disease Control and the Indian Academy of Pediatrics suggest that if the positivity rate is 5-8 per cent and there is a downward trend in Covid cases, then schools can be opened. This can be done with keeping necessary protective measures in schools in place and keeping the number of tests in the area steady and rising,” he told ThePrint.
Delhi’s second serological survey in August had found that nearly 35 per cent of children — the highest percentage among all participants — in the age group of 5-17 years tested positive for antibodies.
A survey in Indore, also conducted in August, found a seroprevalence of about 7 per cent among children, which was similar to that of adults.
These numbers show that despite closure of schools, children contracted the infection.
Giridhar R. Babu, professor and head, lifecourse epidemiology, at Public Health Foundation of India, has on several occasions spoken against reopening of schools.
Talking to ThePrint earlier, he had said: “One in three children in India are malnourished, add to that the physical and mental stress of the pandemic. This suggests that Indian children do not have a great immune response. With their movement in public transport, they stand the risk of spreading it.”
‘How can we ensure safety of our children?’
Studies have indicated that children are less susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but once infected they can become asymptomatic carriers of the disease, an issue which poses a larger concern.
Dr Kalyan Ramalingam, Director of Pediatrics Department in Fortis Hospital, Noida, believed there is no reason why schools should be reopened, keeping in mind the recent spike of Covid cases.
“We have seen an increased number of cases among teenaged children, who are contracting the disease. With entire families testing positive, how can we ensure safety of the youngest of our children?” he told ThePrint.
“While younger children do show less susceptibility to the disease, we still don’t know which of the primary vaccines that we are giving to children is affording them immunity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There may be multiple theories that BCG or MMR vaccine may be providing younger children with the required immunity against this disease, but largely there have been no indications regarding it yet,” he added.