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Reader View: Schools, colleges can be divided into two shifts – morning and afternoon

YourTurn is our new weekly feature in which ThePrint's readers share their views or opinions in response to the question of the week.

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New Delhi: The new guidelines released by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for fifth phase of the coronavirus lockdown has allowed a phased re-opening of most activities across the country, including schools and colleges.

While the government has said educational institutions will be reopened only after discussing the coronavirus situation with states and union territories, several parents have opposed the move, urging authorities to not start schools until there are “zero Covid cases“.

We asked our readers, “How can schools and colleges ensure social distancing when they reopen?

This was their take:

‘Schools and colleges can follow the Singapore model of having two shifts’

The solution provided here is with the reference to the Singapore model which is highly successful to protect students in this pandemic. Before starting schools or colleges, all the teaching and non-teaching staff should be tested. The school or a college should be divided into the two shifts – morning and afternoon. The number of students should be equally divided into the two shifts such that the two shifts will not intersect in any way. Within one shift, the students should be maintained with social distancing and proper hygiene. One more thing we can incorporate is – alternate week attendance. Both the shifts should be further divided into the two groups each so that one student will attend school only on alternate weeks. If anyone finds Covid-19 symptoms, they will have one week to get tested for that particular group of the shift and it will not affect the entire school’s functioning. Temperature screening should be done every day at the entry of the school for all students and staff — Sumaiya Sande, Singapore. Twitter handle: @sumaiya_sande

‘Dividing the day for primary and secondary students’

They can divide the day for primary and secondary or for different standards i.e. first there will be school for primary students and after their departure, then in afternoon the school will start for secondary students, between which the classes must be cleaned once. In classes there should be less than 30 students only and teachers can use live classes to teach in more than one class at a time. Schools can regulate a timetable for arrival and departure of students through which at a time only one class will leave the school. It will prevent rush at gates. Other than this, schools should provide masks and sanitizers to all students and all people should have a corona check before entering the campus — Nutan Bisandre, Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh. Twitter handle: @BisandreNutan

‘Only 15 to 20 students should be allowed to sit in a classroom’

Social distancing plays a crucial role in fighting the coronavirus. As we know, the condition of our country is deteriorating day by day, in that case opening of schools and colleges could be dangerous. In the case of colleges with a low strength and having larger campuses and classroom area, social distancing can be maintained by implementing some rules like only 15 to 20 students will be allowed to sit in the classroom. Social distancing can be maintained by some big private and government colleges and schools but chances of maintaining social distancing will be tough task. I am from Bihar and I know the condition of government schools here, in one class you will find 100 of children and for them there is only one and somewhere two toilets. Now you tell me how can social distancing be maintained. As we go in detail we will find many problems related to sanitisation, cleanliness etc. In my opinion opening of schools and colleges will be the biggest mistake we are going to make. The government and private institutions should wait for some more time — Sidharth Prakash, Mairwa, Siwan (Bihar). Twitter handle: @sidhart50665634

‘Classes can be video-recorded and sent to students’

One suggestion is to divide students and have two sessions of classes. For instance, few grades in the morning session and the rest in the afternoon session. These students itself must be seated split into various classrooms, so as to ensure maximum social distancing. One method that can be executed in schools with at least a few digital classrooms is that, as one teacher teaches, it must be video recorded, and can be replayed in the other classes, so it doesn’t become burdensome for teachers as well, nevertheless, classes must be recorded and sent to students, so they can access them at homes, because now is a time where one’s privilege could actually benefit others. For students who have the capacity and privilege of online classes should remain home and access them, and restrict themselves from attending physical classes as much as possible, this also aids ensuring distance among other students. Exams must however be conducted physically, this can be done spread over several days with only few students attending at a time. Moving classes online, at least to an extend is inevitable, hence, local governments and school authorities must collaborate and take required steps to prevent this technological swift from side-lining marginalised and less privileged students from getting the most out of the academic exposure — Farah Rafeeq, New Delhi. Twitter handle: @farah_rafeeq

‘Odd-even roll number scheme can be followed’

In a buffer period, after an institution reopens, an odd-even scheme can be followed as proposed by one of the professors of University College London. This scheme is about odd and even roll numbers attending the lectures on alternate days. Or, a day can be divided into two halves. Loss of half the study hours can be checked by adding an additional day to a working week. Staggered arrangement of students in classrooms is the way forward. Classes can tie up a leg to a piece of moveable desks and chairs to ensure social distancing. Sports play a key place in students’ curriculum. Games involving physical contact have to bear a loss. These can be replaced by yoga and meditation. Common ritual in many schools of having recess on an open ground have to be prohibited. Instead they can have their food break in their respective classrooms.
Finally, sanitisation of toilets and healthcare facilities available should be pondered upon. And an awareness, of the guidelines to be followed, should be made before the school/college reopens — Fardin Bhati, Mumbai. Twitter handle: fardinbhati_

‘Shortened & staggered approach will lower risks’

Reopening of educational institutions anytime soon with proper safety measures in place by would be a daunting task. Although, a shortened and staggered approach accompanied by taking temperatures of students and staff as they enter and conforming to other SOPs like sanitising the premises at regular intervals, wearing protective gears, maintaining a 6 feet physical distance, eschewing unnecessary sharing and gatherings, consuming homemade meals, maintaining personal hygiene, being mindful while travelling, keeping the vulnerable people out for the time being etc. will considerably lower the risk factors. Feasible or not, considering the present scheme of things, is a debate for another day — Arnab Sensarma, Kolkata. Twitter handle: @arnab_ss

‘Reduce class hours, no recess so students don’t mix with each other’

Institutions should have classes on alternate basis. Schools can give more priority to higher standard students by giving them more days while colleges can have morning and evening sessions for different semesters. They can make use of the empty spaces created by students of the alternate day/timing for maintaining social distance. Institutions should reduce the class hours without giving recess in between so that the students do not mix with each other and break the social distancing norm — Lanu Temjen, Nagaland. Twitter handle: @Lanutemjen

‘Two groups consisting of 50% teachers and 50% students’

At this stage, It’s going to be a real challenge for the schools to open without the pall of fear of becoming hotspots. But here are a few ideas that could help:
1. Make two groups each having 50 per cent teachers and 50 per cent students, each group gets 14 days of school and 14 days of stay at home with or without online classes.
2. Wherever possible, classes to be held in open spaces with plenty of social distancing.
3. High quality masks for teachers to prevent droplets in addition to easy access to masks and soaps/sanitizers for all — Manish Gupta, Navi Mumbai. Twitter handle: @mannmera

‘Assemblies via intercoms, lunch-break inside classes’

Focusing on the precautions required I suggest:
1. Thermal screening to be conducted before schools start.
2. Assembly conduction through intercoms and lunch-break in classes.
3. Hand washes to be made available for all and face-shields for teachers.
4. Young kids being prone, should be asked to maintain distance as they follow words of teachers religiously.
5. Alternate days batches for classes 6 to 12 and lab works in evening shifts and division into sections.
6. More open access to online class features so that only those students who lack such facilities can be called to avoid crowding and to be made aware of risks of Covid-19 — Nikita Mehta, Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand. Twitter handle: @me1nikita

‘Oral examinations can be held’ 

Speaking as a current student, I think the way to go is to bring in a maximum of two classes a day. In effect, the school week for any particular class will no longer be 6 days long. Examinations could be made completely oral: one student sits with the teacher at one time and answers questions or solves problems. Congregating for assemblies and Annual Days may not be feasible for at least a little more time. In the absence of Annual Days, students could send in videos of themselves performing and have it broadcast live by the school for parents to watch. The idea of school isn’t just studying, but also the experiences we have. No student deserves to be robbed of that. The show must go on, only in a safer and smaller way — Hiya Chowdhury, Delhi. Twitter handle: @HiyaChowdhury3

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