Tuesday, 18 January, 2022
HomeOpinionWhen should Indian schools physically reopen? The best answer is: not yet

When should Indian schools physically reopen? The best answer is: not yet

Online classes work best in secondary level. The younger children need teacher’s guidance and the older ones need labs and project spaces.

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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.

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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  1. Students of 10th and 12th are also innocent children. Loss of their career wd be made up next year but if something wrong happens to any student, think what will happen to other students and parents. Please wait for a few more months.

  2. Opening schools and colleges is a great matter of concern. Unless and until proper hygiene facilities are not available in the institutions, they must not open as it can cause a great rise in the number of cases. The institutions should start from the new session and with proper functioning. Thank you.

  3. Opening schools and colleges is a great matter of concern. Unless and until proper hygiene facilities are not available in the institutions, they must not open as it can cause a great rise in the number of cases. The institutions should start from the new session and with proper functioning.
    -Thank you

  4. Unless it’s covid free government should not open schools at least till grade 5.if they go school definitely covid wil spread faster..

  5. Please 🙏🙏open the all school and colleges nd cooching classes just becoz literally many students its want and need ……. please👏👏 must open fastly education centers 🙏🙏🙏

  6. 9वीं से 12वीं के बच्चे कोई प्रयोग के लिए नहीं हैं स्कूल बंद करो।

  7. School should reopen when vaccine comes in Indian market.
    If school are reopened in such a great hurry we will see spike in number of cases as happened in case of America.

  8. I dont understand why some people are urging for the reopening of schools and colleges in the middle of this pandemic cant they use their knowledge to understand it and other countries like USA has also suffered by reopening schools cant the Indian government understand what will be the consequences if schools are opened in India

  9. 2020 a gap year as this will be a blessing,
    Many students will figure out what they like and learn skills like communication, negotiations and what not this will be a blessing , what I mean is young minds are hub of ideas they can learn whatever they want and excel in it This should be a gap year because most of students don’t have to online education and those who have are not getting much out of it

  10. Please read this , I’m a student of 12th class (PCM) , this is one of the most crucial year of my life , we should make 2020 a gap year as this will be a blessing, reasons-
    1. Many students will figure out what they like and learn skills like communication, negotiations and what not
    2. This will be a blessing , what I mean is young minds are hub of ideas they can learn whatever they want and excel in it
    3. This should be a gap year because most of students don’t have to online education and those who have are not getting much out of it

  11. Praise the Lord,
    My humble request to Government of India, don’t try to play with students life’s and their future, cancel the reopening of schools, colleges and universities atleast till vaccine comes.

    God Bless You All……

  12. You are giving TV broadcast as a solution. In an Indian household you can find that every family has 2 or more children but apart from the rich class i assume the households have only one TV. How is it possible that 2 or more children will study with only one TV. It is not possible for the parents to buy multiple TVs and DTH connections to teach every child. The economic divide in our country is huge and the govt has simply turned blind and deaf.
    We are not even aware of the side effects and long term damage that this virus might have done to the people who even recovered then why are we pushing the future generation into the system where all the concerns are only about making money.
    Half of the academic year is over and many students who do not have access to the electronic gadgets are at a loss. India cannot just keep copying western policies and strategy high level of population and economic and digital divide is reality. We need stronger steps to contain virus instead of making risking student life and making them carriers of the virus.

  13. I think schools and colleges should be closed,until it comes to Norma position or till vaccine is released . Health is important than studies.if health is nice we can study when ever we want.i hope central government will take proper decision on reopening schools.if they be in house something they can learn what they don’t know.we will make them to learn something.please don’t play with students life.
    Thank you.


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

  16. 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?

  17. 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

  18. 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.

    • Yes, I would definitely agree that the fight with covid is a long and inevitable one, but when the mistakes made by USA in opening the schools much earlier has resulted in large increase in covid cases. I am on your side saying students future is important, but is it worth the risk of their lives , is it truly worth it for a few months, or a year of studies. Think about all those lives who can’t afford to go to the next town for the hospital and now even that is not available properly due to this situation. It will never worth it to risk millions of live’s for the sake of a single year of education

  19. In my suggestion this should gap year for students because study is important but not more than life.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

    • Exactly…. keeping colleges and higher secondaries shut and making them to study online is the worst…

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