Is this the right time to reopen schools?

Is this the right time to reopen Schools?

Introduction

Pandemic has directly impacted the education system in India, since the start and has led to drastic changes in institutional setup. Undergoing reforms in teaching and learning styles, interaction, social environment and physical growth of students have been hampered, the problems of online learning mixing up with the innovation and exposure to technology has their implications on every aspect of student and teachers life. After studying from home for approximately 1.5 years, students are looking forward to relaxation from online mode and expecting school interaction. However, the unpredictable nature of the pandemic has created confusion for government authorities, school authorities and parents when it comes to reopening schools.

Arguments in favour to reopen:

  1. The physical interaction of students with teachers is different from online learning and is said to be more productive, as covid cases are under control in many places, schools can reopen.
  2. A vast majority of students in India do not have access to mobile technology or network connections. They are thus experiencing loss of learning due to online classes, therefore one can argue physical classes are needed as the infection rates decline.

“More than 50% of Indian students in rural and urban areas don’t have access to the internet.”- learning spiral survey

  1. Online schools have had a drastic impact on the mental and physical health of students largely due to lack of socialisation, increased screen time, and lack of sports facilities to exercise.
  2. Another problem is the exam patterns and clearances, low provisions of physical exams have created a mixed bundle of challenges related to marking schemes and further education choices for students once they have completed their high school.

Arguments against reopening:

  1. The predictions of the third wave of the pandemic have made it difficult to expect an overarching nationally applicable guideline or policy on the opening of institutions. The fear of the next wave targeting the age group of 10-18 is an obvious risk to remember.
  2. The exclusion of children from vaccination until now is also a concern. Without vaccination and mass inoculation, the risk of infection is high.
  3. Children in the age group of 5-12 are likely to have less utility of masks and social distancing norms in the case of physical classes and therefore keeping a track of the nitty-gritties can create problems. Therefore policies for reopening have to be precise with age groups, area, needs, vaccination level and other aspects. This is best managed in a decentralised manner where neighbourhood schools must be given autonomy to open schools where they see fit.

Major features of standard operating procedures(SOP’s) by different state governments for reopening of schools

  1. Opening for senior classes only from 9th to 12th grades, to ensure less crowding in school premises and a more responsible age group is expected to follow appropriate social distancing protocol. Bihar is the only state that has allowed schools to reopen at the primary level which is for 1st to 8th grade.
  2. The classes will be based on both online and physical modes in a hybrid system, and parents and students have the autonomy to decide between the two modes. Therefore it is not compulsory to attend physical classes.
  3. The schools are permitted to have 50% student capacity at any given point in time. This ensures less crowding in classes and premises.
  4. The social distancing norms are to be strictly followed in buses, vans and classrooms. A ‘one seat, one person’ policy is to be followed, reducing the risk of physical interaction.
  5. Covid necessaries like mask, sanitiser and temperature checks at entry gates are mandatory for all.
  6. Schools being used as vaccination centres will remain the same and not permit students inside.
  7. Area specific reopening is suggested by experts, implying having a check on cases of specific zones and containment zones.
  8. Encouraging staff to be vaccinated to ensure the risk for both students and teachers to be infected is low.

Conclusion

After a long period of online teaching and learning, schools in states like Bihar, Rajasthan, Delhi and some other parts of the nation are all set to get back on physical classes. The respective state governments have promised to ensure proper management and prevention monitoring of schools. Considering the fact that at one place governments are preparing for the third wave and majorly arranging for children specific hospitals and facilities, the bigger question that remains in the picture is that, should the students be sent to school having no vaccination with the prediction being infected during the third wave of Covid-19?