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Students want colleges reopened as 2nd semester begins, but experts warn of Covid clusters

Students in Delhi, Jalandhar and Hyderabad have launched protests, calling for reopening of colleges. But experts note risks of infection.

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New Delhi: With the second semester now in motion in many colleges across the country, students at these institutions are calling for resumption of offline classes. Institutions are, however, taking a cautious approach amid the rising Covid-19 cases in a fresh wave.

Students in Delhi, Jalandhar and Hyderabad have even launched protests, calling for reopening of colleges.

On Monday, a group of students from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) in Delhi protested outside the institute urging authorities to conduct offline classes as the second semester began in April. The students also boycotted online classes.

“The authorities had told us that they will start offline classes in the second semester that starts in April, but this semester has also started in online mode. It is very difficult for us to learn a subject like journalism completely online. It requires practical and offline interaction,” said Ridam Kumar, an IIMC student.

A second student, who didn’t wish to be named, said the institute should reopen following all Covid-19 norms and give a chance to students actually work on the field, which they were not able to do last semester.

The institute released a statement Monday saying it is “considering the demands”, and urged students to get back to studies and end the protest.

“We are discussing the demands put forward by a group of students. Discussion at the highest level with senior authorities is underway and some time is required to reach a final decision,” a note from IIMC additional director general (admin) K. Satish Nambudiripad read.

Speaking about the government’s stand on the issue, a senior official from the Ministry of Education said on the condition of anonymity: “So far we have been following directives from health ministry and home ministry when it comes to reopening of education institutions. Accordingly, institutions have been doing whatever is suitable to them as per locally prevalent situation. If and when there are new instructions we will pass on the same.”

Also read: 45+ or not, teachers want to be included in vaccine drive so ‘we can safely open schools’

Protest in other parts of country

Last week, students from Delhi University took to social media demanding reopening of colleges. According to students, the shift to online education is still a struggle for them. They urged the authorities to start offline classes.

The university authorities, however, told ThePrint earlier that it is unlikely that the colleges will reopen amid the rising wave of Covid cases.

Earlier this month, students from junior colleges in Hyderabad also demanded reopening of colleges ahead of board exams.

In March, students in Jalandhar had staged a protest seeking reopening of colleges in the district. The Punjab Students’ Union had pointed out that keeping the colleges shut would adversely affect education.

Also read: No student to be called to school in new academic session till further orders — Delhi govt

Worsening Covid situation

With the country in the middle of a surging second Covid wave, however, experts have advised caution to ensure no clusters are created.

Giridhar Babu, epidemiologist and member, Karnataka state government expert committee for Covid-19, said there is a need to protect young people from getting hospitalised. “The new Brazilian mutation of the virus has had a serious effect on young people as well, we have seen that in Canada… young people needing hospitalisation and needing ventilators. Hence, it is not a good idea to reopen colleges right now when the cases are surging.”

He added, “I understand that there is a learning loss happening but the choice is very tough right now, between students losing out on studies and getting infected. I think the choice should be to not risk getting infected right now. We need to avoid creating clusters of infections and schools and colleges are potential hubs of infection.”

Virologist T. Jacob John said vaccination holds the key. “The government should have vaccinated all the teachers and staff in January itself, given them the first shot in January and by February they would get the second shot so that colleges and schools could safely reopen,” he said.

“However, that has not been given a priority by the state and central governments. In this case, the only solution is to contain infections at the local level if colleges reopen and ensure that infection clusters are not created,” he added.

John noted the risks of creating Covid clusters amid the surging second wave. “But at the same time reopening of schools and colleges is also essential. Colleges should reopen only in areas that have less number of infections and ensure that they follow all protocols. In areas where infections are large in numbers, reopening should wait,” he added.

Clusters in the past

Many educational institutions have emerged as Covid clusters in the past. Altogether, at least 1,000 Covid cases have been detected among schools and colleges in seven states.

The Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, is the latest to join the list. It reported 191 cases last week.

Ten students of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bhubaneswar, had also tested positive on their arrival on the campus last month. The institute was forced to delay the arrival of the next batch of students due to this.

Last year, IIT Madras had also emerged as a Covid cluster after it reopened for PhD students and researchers. The institute had to temporarily shut down following the surge in cases.

Also read: Nothing wrong with IIM-Rohtak director appointment, ‘liable to be upheld’: Govt tells HC


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