New Delhi: With the Ministry of Home Affairs suggesting educational institutions reopen in July in the second phase of ‘Unlock 1‘, the idea has met with resistance from different quarters. While parents have described the plan as “playing with fire”, experts have said it’s not time yet for schools and colleges to physically reopen.
UN agencies — UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank — have meanwhile said “school reopening during this global crisis is not a return to normal”.
Releasing the “Framework for re-opening of schools”, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank in a joint statement released earlier this month said, “We must do things not only differently, but better.”
The guidelines look at many things — when and where to re-open schools and what should be kept in mind once the schools re-open, among other things.
The Narendra Modi government also claims to be looking at various ways to make sure children are safe when they come back to classrooms. A number of suggestions has been given to the government by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the Ministry of Human Resource Development is currently finalising the guidelines for schools to follow.
Some of the suggestions that are likely to be finalised are staggered attendance in classrooms, calling only older children to school and constant sanitising of surfaces.
The framework laid out by the UN agencies offer similar suggestions to follow when schools re-open.
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According to the suggested framework drawn up by UNESCO, UNICEF and World Bank, things that countries should keep in mind before re-opening schools are “capacity of the school to maintain safe school operations to mitigate risks, such as social distancing i.e. size of classroom compared to number of students”, “water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and practices”, and “level of exposure between the school population and higher-risk groups, such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions”.
Other factors that should be kept in mind are: “how does the school population travel to and from school” and “what are the community-related risk factors considering epidemiological factors, public health and healthcare capacities”.
The guidelines suggest that countries should increase access to safe water, hand washing stations and cleaning supplies.
“Train administrative staff and teachers on implementing physical distancing and school hygiene practices and increase staff at schools as needed,” the guidelines add.
The statement by the agencies also expressed concern about the schools being shut for a long period of time. “As one can expect, the longer the school interruption, the larger the learning loss,” read the statement issued by Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO; Robert Jenkins, Chief of Education and Associate Director, UNICEF; Jaime Saavedra, Global Director for Education, World Bank.
It advocated that “the early the schools re-open, the less risk of long-term damage on learning”.
“We are concerned that prolonged school closures will exacerbate inequalities, deepen the learning crisis and expose the most vulnerable children to heightened risk of exploitation. We know from other crises that the longer marginalized children are out of school, the less likely they are to return,” the statement added.
In an earlier report, UNESCO had said Covid-19 has affected nearly 91 per cent student population of the world, including 32 crore students in India.
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