Schools re-opening: Safety at stake

Schools re-opening: Safety at stake
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Schools re-opening: Safety at stake

Highlights

While it is a fact that keeping schools shut for over 16 months has resulted in loss of learning, it appears that the State governments are showing undue haste in reopening the schools

While it is a fact that keeping schools shut for over 16 months has resulted in loss of learning, it appears that the State governments are showing undue haste in reopening the schools. There is no harm in waiting for a few more months as experts have been warning of a third wave.

An expert committee of the Disaster Management has informed the Centre that the third wave would begin in September and could peak in October. They have made it clear that the risk is not over yet. The country is still in the midst of second wave, though fortunately the number of positive cases has gone down to about one per cent or so. A system for online learning is already in place and extending it for a couple of months more will not cause any major harm. This is the general opinion being expressed not only by the parents but also some teachers and experts.

The Telangana government has decided to reopen all educational institutions from September 1. According to the guidelines issued by the government to the schools, it is mandatory to take the consent of the parents. The parents have to certify that their wards do not suffer from any cold or fever, allergies or any medical conditions. They also must give consent for abiding by all the Covid-19 safety guidelines. The schools will not provide any transport facility. There will be only 20 students per class and for primary classes the school would be over by 11.30 am and each batch will be attending classes for three days a week only.

The government also says that each student and person on the campus will have to strictly wear masks and exchange of personal things will not be allowed. Now, the big question is what if the parents are not willing to give consent. Well, neither the administration nor the schools have any answer for this.

There are reports from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh that maintaining social distance among students during lunch time was becoming a big problem for them. We all know several countries are seeing resurgence in cases and we could be next. Resurgence of cases is being reported from Andhra Pradesh since schools have been re-opened on August 16. Four students of a government-run school in Krishna district tested positive for Covid-19 in the random sample testing conducted on Monday. Some students of government schools in Guntur and Prakasam districts have also tested positive for Covid after reopening schools in the State.

Another fear the parents express is that how to ensure that the children keep masks on for three hours, particularly in the case of primary classes. Another problem is what if the kids exchange masks fascinated by the design or colour of the mask of their friends. Kids would love to mingle with each other, and it would be a near impossible task to keep them at distance. In fact, some cases of children exchanging masks and falling sick were reported from Tamil Nadu. A simple droplet is enough to cause cold or even Covid-19. That is why many parents are still not ready to send their children to schools.

It appears that the Delhi and the UP government have taken a more sensible decision though they also have issued orders to re-open schools from September 1. They said it was not compulsory for parents to send children to school in case they have any fears and students can continue with online classes. This option is made available for classes 9 to 12. But unfortunately, here no such option has been given.

Even all teachers and parents have not yet been vaccinated fully. While some of them are waiting for the second dose of the jab, there may be some who have not yet had their first jab. No wonder the parents are not willing to take risks as the Covid-19 cases continue and vaccine for children is still not available.

Medical experts and parents have been of the strong opinion that instead of opening all institutions in one go, the government should have announced their resumption in phases. Schools above eighth standard should be reopened first and if everything goes fine, physical classes can be resumed for other classes.

School plays certainly play a very important role in the holistic development of a child and it has been over 16 months since these institutions have been shut due to the Covid pandemic. While parents agree that continued closure of schools is taking a toll on children's psychological health, they want to wait for some more time to see how the pandemic situation evolves before taking a decision.

Hence, the schools should re-open and physical classes should start but certainly not in the manner it has been planned by the TS government. It should be in a graded manner keeping in mind the wellbeing of every stakeholder. This surely is a genuine demand of the parents and a practical suggestion from experts.

The parents are recalling that lack of proper planning had led to closure of schools within a few days of re-opening during the last academic year and when another attempt was made to reopen institutions in June.

Another major problem which the government failed to take into consideration is dropping and picking up of children from school. In a majority of the cases, both parents are working, and it would be a difficult task to take care of their transport every day. Why the government failed even to think of such basic problems is what the parents fail to understand.

Unfortunately, the government went by the report given by the Director of Health and some officials that it is safe to re-open the schools but did not consult all the stakeholders. No one seems to have taken the ground realities into consideration. Merely issuing SOPs does not really ensure safety of kids. Unfortunately, the officials across the country seem to have mastered the fine art of giving reports which suit the line of thinking of the political executive.

The big question is are we ready for rapidly changing situations as far as the pandemic is concerned. A variety of schooling and learning strategies need to be in place in case schools need to shut again.

The schools must be reopened in a phased manner with a better flexible plan. If schools have to be reopened, they should not resume full-time classes is one of the suggestions put forth by experts and only this part has been incorporated in the guidelines issued to the schools.

The schools have asked the parents to give consent forms, but will they also supply copies of vaccination certificates of the teachers and other staff on the school premises? There is no such rule or provision. How can one know whether an ayah or the teacher for that matter had received both the doses of vaccine? How can the parents know whether all the families of the teachers and the staff are fully vaccinated and there is not much chance of them being carriers?

Recently in an interview to NDTV, Dr N K Arora, an expert, said, "The parents before considering sending their children to schools must ensure that the teaching and the non-teaching staff in the schools are vaccinated against Covid and the adults in the family are immunised." He said, "Children sometimes become the vehicle of transmitting the virus; however, if a safe, virus-free environment is created, the spread of infection can be reduced." Can we not have such hybrid system?

Does such a situation prevail in the schools in Telangana? Has any such study been made? If not, the government owes a reply as to why it did not examine from this viewpoint. Another issue it needs to answer is what way would it affect the government if the option of attending physical classes or online classes was given.

Will the schools which are making parents sign a self-declaration and consent form take the responsibility for the health of the child? What if they take off the mask in toilet or even when in class? Even now it's not too late for the government to re-examine the issue and decide to give an option of physical classes and online classes.

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