Kozhikode: Students outside a school after giving a Board examination, May 27, 2020 | PTI
Kozhikode: Students outside a school after giving a Board examination, May 27, 2020 (representational image) | PTI
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The winding down of the national lockdown in India and the devolution of coronavirus pandemic management to the states will change daily life as we have known it for the past few months. While the reopening of the economy is rightly the subject of public interest, the reopening of schools and educational institutions will require greater attention in the coming weeks. The lockdown was less disruptive than it might otherwise have been because it came at the tail end of the academic year in many states and students spent the better part of the period at home. But now the questions of if, when and how to reopen schools and colleges can no longer be put on the back burner. How should state governments proceed?

From the public health perspective, there are two principal considerations: protecting children and their families from the disease and preventing transmission through school children. The fact that the disease is relatively milder and less lethal among younger people suggests that children are at a lower risk. However, the asymptomatic nature of the transmission means the disease could spread to others through them. It is presumably harder to ensure hand hygiene, masks and social distancing among children and teenagers. Since schools and colleges are effectively social hubs, they can also become hubs of disease transmission. While early studies from other countries suggest that transmission through school children might be limited, it’s unclear if the results apply to Indian contexts, and a prudent, cautious approach is warranted.


Also read: ‘Playing with fire’: Parents oppose Modi govt suggestion to reopen schools from July


The online class conundrum

For the most part, classes can be effectively delivered online. In an upcoming survey report covering students from several countries, Takshashila’s teenage interns Ada Pai, Myesha Phukan and Joesh Nayak find that for a majority of the respondents, both classes and extracurricular activities have moved online. However, most of those surveyed preferred physical classes, which is understandable, because schools perform an important social function. The initial experience of private schools in Bengaluru that have introduced online classes supports the view that this medium is workable from secondary school onwards.

At the kindergarten and primary school level, outcomes are far more dependent on the proximity of the teacher. A large part of a teacher’s role is to get the children to sit down and pay attention to what is being taught. Here, online classes will not work too well. So too at the uppermost end of school, where there are laboratory and project work requirements. Satisfactory solutions to both these problems need to be found.


Also read: How Modi govt plans to reopen schools once lockdown is lifted 


Time for TV

The fundamental problem, though, is that online classes are iniquitous — very few families can afford devices and internet connections — and thus cannot form the basis for reopening schools. A better answer, as the Karnataka government is contemplating, is television. Almost 70 per cent of the national population has access to television. In the Southern states, television reach is over 90 per cent. There are a number of existing private regional channels effectively broadcasting junk in between advertisements; and the Doordarshan platform has some capacity. There is also no shortage of satellite transponders available from Indian and foreign providers, and these are fairly inexpensive.

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Thus, a state-wide school system can be run on television with one channel per grade at a time. If two grades time-share a channel, the requirement is for six channels for 10 hours a day. It doesn’t need a lot of teachers or equipment — just broadcast the best teachers in the state conducting classes in a studio. These classes can also be streamed online. The television channels can raise revenues through advertisements, besides being able to broadcast commercial content during the evening peak hours. Given how little it would cost, television-based school education is ideal for cash-strapped state governments. In some places, it might do better than physical schools that suffer from poor teacher quality and absenteeism.


Also read: Govt plans ‘tech-savvy’ additions to National Education Policy to adapt it to Covid reality


Don’t ring the bell yet

Of course, television does not offer satisfactory solutions for attendance, test assessments and annual examinations. These will have to be made the responsibility of the families and the students. Public campaigns can help. We might even see adults benefiting from these programmes. Other than board exams, all others can be the parents’ responsibility. This can come as a culture shock for many families, where scoring marks by hook or crook is seen as the objective. Cheating makes little sense if the only person you are cheating is yourself.

What is harder to replace will be the mid-day meal served at government schools. The risk of malnourishment of vulnerable children is real, even in urban and higher-income states. State governments and their NGO partners will need to restructure their mid-day meal schemes and work out new ways to ensure that the meal reaches the child.

When should schools physically reopen? The best answer is: not yet. Where and when there is reasonable confidence that the spread has been contained, a gradual, staggered reopening can be considered. But let’s not forget that there can be second and subsequent waves, with possible local containments and state-wide lockdowns. To avoid subjecting children to more anxieties and uncertainties, state governments must factor in repeated disruptions. That is why a robust television-plus-technology system is necessary. Whether or not the school reopens, secondary school mathematics will be on Channel 64!

The author is the director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy. Views are personal.

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13 Comments Share Your Views

13 COMMENTS

  1. PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO THIS:
    I AM A STUDENT OF CLASS 12 SCIENCE.
    I GENUINELY WANT TO KNOW THAT IS THE GOVERNMENT PLAYING WITH OUR LIVES OR WITH OUR CAREER?
    AS FAR AS OUR STUDENTS CONCERN THIS GOVERNMENT IS LEAST INTERESTED, ISN’T IT?
    THIS IS TO NOTIFY YOU ALL THAT THIS IS A CRUCIAL YEAR AND WE ALL NEED TO FIGHT AGAINST IT WITHOUT DAMAGING A SINGLE CAUSE.
    THIS IS HUMBLE REQUEST THAT THIS YEAR MUST BE A GAP YEAR FOR ALL STUDENTS PERTAINING FOR BOARDS AND COLLEGE STUDENTS.
    THIS MUST BE APPLIED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
    HOPE FOR POSITIVE RESPONSE. THANK YOU.

  2. The people commenting here to try to live with the virus, once you die you are no longer to live. Health> education. Remember.

  3. Why are schools seen as places where only students go? Who teaches them? Who runsthe administration? Aren’t they and their safety important as well? Why are some schools already calling teachers and other non-teaching staff to school daily and asking them to teach online from school itself using their phones? If students are not going then why should teachers go? Offcourse the safety of children is of utmost importance. But does that mean that teacher’s lives are of no value at all?

  4. Namaste
    I think it school should be opened in July, as the working and illiterate parents find difficult to teach their child either through online or any other sources.morevover all the parents do not have all the facilitie at home to make their child to teach online
    A child should to survive
    .

  5. The fight with covid virus is a long one, we have to learn to live with it. So opening school with precaution is the way to go. School for above class 5th should start, with some classes on first 3 days of week and the rest on other 3 days.

  6. Colleges like sharda in grrater noida is askin it pgs to join from 8th june despite the notice that school colleges are to reopen in july. Students travel from different states to study in a college. Is it justified? The college students there are mostly from delhi, the risk zone.

  7. According to the covid_19 so many children are falled in risk stage . Because some children’s are not able to understand the online studies , especially the children’s in home they cannot able to study well . (I requesting to the govt that higher education wants to be open early ) . And mainly the teen age children’s are forgetting their studies so please open the higher studies . I hope this message wants to reach for govt or media
    Jai hind. Jai Karnataka.

  8. Greetings,
    It is understandable that children are at risk and care is to be taken in allowing opening of schools.
    However, professional institutes like maritime academies, aviation schools and such places should be allowed to function as if there is a dearth of hands on training today, we will suffer a lack of professionals in the very near future
    Regards

  9. The virus is here to stay vaccine or otherwise. How long the children would be made to live under fear inside home. Several studies shown continues exposer to electronic gadgets can play havoc on children of all ages. We cannot follow escapism to reality. All these years the babus who were given responsibility to manage central govt schools used to squeeze more children in class to reduce number of teachers in school siting budget constraints
    This has to change now, let the class room size be brought down to 15 or 20 maximum and appoint more teachers. More staff to usher children and Improve maintenance of wash room etc. The govt has to spend more on Education which are temples of learning not on temples for gods.

  10. The problem with TV and DTH is it is one way and not two way.
    I am told one country which opened schools had to close subsequently as the number of COVID 19 cases went up.

    By the way I am not sure If I am correct but I observe that the number of articles on HEIs are very less in your magazine.

  11. I think schools and colleges should re open because covid is the disease we have to learn to live with. With the extent of spread it has in our nation it’s not possible to contain it anymore. The only solution is development of herd immunity as vaccine is no where near ready.

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