Over two lakh parents across India have opposed the Ministry of Home Affairs’ plan to reopen schools in July. On Saturday, the MHA announced ‘Unlock 1’, in which schools and colleges will be reopened after consultations with states and Union territories. Many countries like China, Taiwan, UK, Germany, Denmark and Norway have reopened schools.
ThePrint asks: Can schools & students be trusted with Covid norms or should classes begin as curve flattens?
Absurd that places of worship and shopping complexes are being opened before schools
Former education secretary
Schools are built on the foundation of discipline and should be trusted to adhere to Covid-19 precautions. Students and teachers are perhaps the most responsible members of society. It is absurd that places of worship and shopping complexes, which usually lack the same discipline, are being allowed to open prior to schools.
We need to remember that students don’t fall under the vulnerable age group for coronavirus. Mostly, it is people above the age of 60 who have a high risk of getting infected. So, we shouldn’t be paranoid about reopening schools.
Online classes have been picking up pace during lockdown, but they have their limitations and cannot replace the classroom experience. Although online classes have become a critical alternative during these tough times, not many students have access to broadband or even mobile internet. Some don’t even have their own mobile phones. This hinders their education and highlights the need to get schools up and running again. That said, teachers and school authorities are considering conducting physical classes every alternate day, and online classes on the other days. Splitting the class into two cohorts to maintain social distancing is another idea that is in the works.
Reopening of schools depends on parents’ trust in authorities
Dr. Ameeta Mulla Wattal
Principal, Springdales School, New Delhi
When it comes to schools, let’s look at the adults in charge – the government, school authorities and parents. Since Covid-19 is a dynamic situation, there is a lot of uncertainty as to whether schools should reopen in July. I’d also like to reiterate that reopening India has been an evolving process and every decision is going to have to be relooked, reworked and re-evaluated as the situation changes. Few public spaces are reopening without being aware of the consequences and schools should not fall in the same category when they reopen.
Even if the government gives school authorities the green light in July, much will depend on how comfortable parents are and whether they are willing to risk sending their kids to school. Therefore, the question of trust deficit is not really between students and schools but rather parents and schools because ultimately, it is their responsibility. The real question is how trusting are parents of Covid guidelines and whether they are willing to accept that despite regular sanitisation and adhering to Covid precautions, schools can’t guarantee that nobody will contract the virus.
That said, I have heard concerns from many office-going parents that they do not want to leave their kids alone at home while they are at work. So, maybe many will be pushed into sending their kids into school. But for now, it is a waiting game.
Govt unlikely to customise reopening guidelines for schools as per their location and nature
Rashmi S Chari
Associate Director, Center for Curriculum & Research, Bluebells School International
Schools and teachers, who are entrusted with the responsibility of preparing the children for life’s hurdles, can be trusted to train students to follow Covid precautions. Many countries are already opening schools and training teachers and students to maintain social distancing.
But the Indian government is unlikely to customise instructions for reopening of schools according to their specific nature and location. This is troubling considering the fact that numbers of students per class, school infrastructure, differing resources in public and private schools, demographics and location are all critical factors.
The education ministries at the Centre and in states should recognise that there is no urgency to open schools, unlike small businesses whose survival depends on re-opening. Schools have the safe alternative of online classes. NCERT and state governments had been conducting classes for public schools using EDUSAT television channels.
The NCERT, CBSE and state boards should instead work on rationalising the syllabus, creating online teaching modules and age-appropriate online learning resources. Cyber safety issues should also be factored in. They should spell out formative assessment guidelines and prepare softwares for proctored assessments for the end of term exams. Schools should also be given a choice of either going hybrid or sticking to online classes.
I don’t see kids following social distancing norms. Schools must not open now
Parent and co-founder, Language Curry
As a mother of a three-year-old and a six-year-old, I don’t see kids following social distancing norms. Schools should definitely not be opened for students of this age category. Not even for children up to 15 years. I stopped sending my younger child to a play school in May. I don’t foresee him attending classes till the year end.
I think universities should open up first and we should observe how it goes. Then, gradually we can think of opening high schools and play schools. Personally, just from observing the children in my society in Gurugram, I do not see them taking protocols seriously. I see a lot of older kids, even around the age of 16, playing with each other and hugging. They are not adhering to six-feet gap advisory at all, and so it will be difficult to expect the same from younger kids.
There is a concern among office-going parents about leaving their kids alone at home. But as a working mother running a startup, I see this a reality that everyone must deal with. That said, employers should also be mindful and identify employees with constraints and accordingly, give them the leeway. The emotional burden currently being felt by mothers is a reality and I think for a few months, while India unlocks, it is something we have to accept and adapt to.
Opening schools without knowing transmission patterns among children will be risky
Amir Ullah Khan
Professor of Health Economics at Indian School of Public Policy
There are many reasons why we should not be opening schools in a hurry. At least not in the near future. We have no conclusive data to support the claim that children are not vulnerable to Covid infection. The data so far suggests that like SARS and MERS, Covid-19 also does not really infect the school-going children aged between 6 and 14. However, at the same time, we know that there have been cases of severe illness among children too. Also, our crowded schools cannot maintain the social distancing protocols. Students must maintain 1 meter distance at all times, should be checked for symptoms while entering the premises, which must be sanitised regularly.
Each school exists in completely different local conditions, and so, uniform conditions cannot apply to all of them. Teachers and other staff will be at high risk from contracting the virus and in turn spreading the same among children. Finally, making children wear masks in these hot and humid conditions will be another challenge. We have an entire academic year in front of us. Even if classes start in October, we will have enough time to complete all teaching by April. Opening schools without data on transmission among children and without adequate testing will be very risky, to say the least.
By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist at ThePrint