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It’s a unanimous decision: All want schools to reopen

It is probably for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic broke out that all stake holders want the schools to reopen. Brainfeed magazine spoke to a cross-section of people including school leaders, health experts, psychologists, parents and students on the contentious issue of reopening schools. The verdict has been an overwhelming ‘yes’ in favour of opening schools. T P Venu reports

Sixteen months or the last one-and-a-half years will never be forgotten for more reasons than one.  People now want to put the horrific months behind and want schools to reopen. After several studies, surveys, government sponsored panels and reports it is now that the majority of stake holders want the schools to reopen.

The learning loss and the mental trauma that the student community has gone through in the last 16 months has been nothing less than traumatic. The digital divide has caused a fault line and dented the education system that will take a long time to heal. The silver lining though is the possible reopening of schools across the length and breadth of India. At present, schools in some states in India such as Punjab have already opened and many states have issued orders to reopen from August 16.

One of the reasons for reopening of schools is the fact that till date not a single case of death among the student community has been reported coupled with the fact that health experts do not foresee a problem among the student community. Also, with the vaccination drive underway and in good measure there is all the more reason to let the school gates to be opened.

It is time to rebuild the loss which has been in learning, social-wellbeing, mental well-being, economic aspects and bring back the school environment for the benefit of all. There are several questions such as; when and how do we reopen schools? What safety measures need to be in place? Should one call students in batches? Should there be alternate day school? To what extent should curriculum be tweaked? How to restart teaching? Should one blindly go about what was being done before the pandemic or change the style of teaching and learning keeping in mind the New Education Policy?

Dr Geeta Nambiar, a well-known psychologist says, “Schools are the place where students learn the rudiments of life skills. A school provides all that is needed for a child to blossom. The governments need to reopen schools with precautionary measures.” The student community too is eager to return to school. Shaunak Rathore, a Class 12 student of Army Public School, Secunderabad says, “90% of the student community wants to return to school. There are so many friends who have completed Class 11 without going to school and it is taking a toll on our minds.”

Here are excerpts of interviews:

Damodar Prasad Goyal
President, Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan

Almost a dozen states decided to reopen schools in August. Your comments.

Many schools have been allowed to reopen classes IX-XII only and to my information, the attendance is not very encouraging in an urban areas and moderate in rural areas. The effect will be known after two weeks. There is a mixed response from parents.

In spite of the advantages of online teaching, studies reveal that there has been learning loss. What has been your experience?

There is huge learning loss. Substantial reduction in syllabus and the way results are declared by different boards itself testify that there is a huge learning loss. I am afraid that these batches may have a taboo of COVID PASSED Students. In government schools no e- learning took place for the want of necessary facilities and in number of budget schools, e-teaching / learning was a formality as they were striving for sustaining.

People are divided on reopening of schools. Some say that children in any way will not be affected so what is the harm in reopening. Others say that they are at risk.

It is very difficult to predict. Corona virus is mutating very quickly and differently. Virologist is unsure. Kerala, Karnataka, Northeast states are facing a surge in number of cases. Even after two shots of vaccine, people are getting infected. Keeping fingers crossed.

Dr. Kulbhushan Sharma, President, NISA
Dr. Kulbhushan Sharma, President, NISA

The news of reopening schools is an important and much-awaited one.The Schools across the country have been closed for more than 15 months now. The shutdown of the schools is not only the loss to the students but also to the nation.

This long shutdown of the physical classes has made education system vulnerable. During the pandemic breakdown many countries like Australia made it a point not to completely close down schools. As the unlock process began countries, which had closed down schools during the lockdown, made it a priority to open the schools and physical classes are conducted. However, schools in India are closed for more than 15 months and still not enough serious discussion on opening of schools. The uncertainty around the re-opening of schools and conducting the classes as usual still continues. South Asia, which hosts a sizeable population of school-going children are feared to have undergone a huge learning deficit. According to a recent report titled “Beaten or Broken Informality and Covid19 in South Asia” by the World Bank, the South Asia region stands to lose up to USD 622 billion from the school closures besides substantial learning losses.

Some effort has been made to continue the teaching and learning activities by capitalizing on the presence of digital infrastructure. Though the reach of such an effort has been limited and can not substitute the educational activity that happens in classrooms.

In this situation the more vulnerable category is the Budget Private Schools sector which is more than 80% of all the private schools in the country.These schools hardly find the possibility to adopt online education. The students who studied in these budget private schools are mostly the first-generation learner. Parents are mostly from a deprived community, they stay in one room homes and have no environment for learning.. Online education cannot replace the teacher role in education, education is not only learning from textbooks. Education and learning are more than textbooks and teachers always plays a vital role.

I would rather say people are not divided, people are confused. The government wants to keep them confused. There is so much health expertise informing the government that the school going children are not vulnerable to COVID 19. But the governments don’t want to open the school and they are not even bothering about the learning loss happening to the entire country. We will have a workforce that just has a degree on paper without much knowledge and practical skills. Parents are fearful of sending their children to schools during the pandemic.Meanwhile, those parents whose children are still taking online classes are not convinced they are learning well.

As a part of the unlocking process, all other services are opened. The children are everywhere in the market, mall, park etc. But they are not only safe in schools. With all our mistakes we are making our children’s future a problematic one. This generation will not forgive our mistakes in future when they face a problem in their life. It’s time to come together and support to open the school and save our children from learning loss.

 

Dr. Shauli Mukherjee, Director – School of Education & Dean – Students Affairs, Adamas University

On reopening of schools

Schools may start reopening in a phased manner maintaining strict Covid protocols only after all our children are vaccinated. It may start with the senior students attending classes twice or thrice a week along with reduced operational hours. However, blended teaching learning procedure and a hybrid model should be wholeheartedly embraced and encouraged.

On learning loss

We can definitely not ignore the existing reality and alarming statistics pertaining to the digital divide. However, the paradigm shift to the online teaching learning ecosystem has enabled the entire educational fraternity to experience and realize the benefits of a technology embedded teaching learning system as well as the advantages of a personalized and self-paced learning mechanism. Also ‘learning’ is not to be approached through a delimited viewpoint restricting the same only to the sphere of academic learning. We cannot deny the fact that there has been significant progress in learning the basic life skills and noticeable enhancement in the resilient quotient among the young learners during the pandemic.

On effect of school reopening on children

Schools should only physically reopen for the children after ensuring that all the children are vaccinated. We cannot afford to risk the lives and well-being of our children in our adherence to the dictates of a formalized education system.

Dr. Sunita Vashistha, Principal, MGPS
Dr. Sunita Vashistha, Principal, MGPS,Jaipur

On school reopening

With the raging fangs of the Second Wave of Corona subsiding and the increased number of jabs being facilitated pan India which is getting reflected  in the ebbing Covid updates ,it is high time for the think tank to brainstorm if the reopening of schools as proposed in many of the states is feasible or not.

Given the latest Covid situation in Rajasthan, things have improved on a large scale and if medical experts and the stakeholders flag in schools should throw their gates open for in person teaching and not virtual.

In spite of advantages of online teaching, studies reveal that there has been learning loss. What has been your experience?

Unmistakably the human touch is lost in virtual classes but at no point of time in the last more than a year span did we feel that our kids are missing out on their valuable study hours as here at our Institution MGPS teaching learning in digital mode has been relentless, absolute and intensely extensive. Be it Co -curricular i.e-Sports, Art and Craft, Music and Dance, Inter School Competitions, Investiture Ceremony, Celebration of the grand occasions and even Summer Camps or the plethora of academic activities -our girls had it all.

The warm responses in all our endeavours have reaffirmed our conviction to do and cater the best. The hour we had received the Government’s instruction and guidelines we have strictly adhered to the Covid protocol and conducted academic assessments. If, unfortunately, a handful of institutions have overlooked obligation there might have been a loss but here in the Pink City, ours is one of the handful seats of scholastic interests which ran the show in all its grandeur.

People are divided on reopening of schools. Some say that children in any way will not be affected so what is the harm in reopening. Others say that they are at risk. Your comments. 

The ICMR has announced that herd immunity has been achieved to a large extent and hence the schools should welcome the kids in their folds with open arms but with the stringent Covid Protocol being observed so that safety is not compromised and trust is not at stake.

For Primary kids, even though as announced the immunity level is high compared to the other age groups, the challenge is to monitor their strict observance of Covid Regulations which is comparatively easier in other groups. At Our School, however, we have been vigilant and actively alert and ensured that even when the Corona was ranging fangs, the kids have been safe on the campus when they had , as per State orders visited for assessments.

 

shweta sastriWe are very happy with the news that students in grade 9-12 will be able to return to campus soon.  Kids need to be back in school and this is the first step in the right direction.  We now look forward to the decision to bring back younger students back to campus too.  After more than a year and a half of being away from their classrooms, teachers, peers, and the school campuses, this is a very welcome announcement.

 

S K Bhattacharya
President, Action Committee of Unaided Recognized Schools Delhi

Schools need to reopen now!

Dr S K Bhattacharya says, “Enough is enough. Schools need to reopen now. Children have suffered a great deal. The effect has been a lot as it affected emotional health, many have gone into depression, and suicidal tendencies have risen.” “The Delhi government has allowed classes for 11 & 12 classes and 70% of the parents too are willing to send their children to school.A school environment are a must for the overall development of the child.”

 

 

Dr Randeep Guleria, director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences
Dr. Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences

“I think we have to balance things out. There is a number of children who have missed out on schools for a very long time as they do not have the excess to computer and therefore they are not able to get the quality of education. Therefore, having physical classes in important also schools are not only important from an education point of vies but for building a child’s character for social interaction with peers, the physical school has a much bigger role to play than what can be done through virtual classes,”

 

 

Dr D.Dhanapal, Correspondent, Kovai Vidyashram Schools, Coimbatore

“Schools can open for higher classes. Parents, teachers and students want to reopen but the government is hesitant. In Tamil Nadu, the government stated that schools may reopen from September 1, 2021.”

“Cases have drastically come down and till date there is no death reported among school going children. All this goes to prove that schools should reopen with safety measures in place.”

“There has been a huge learning loss. Children have forgotten the writing and reading skill. It will take one year to pick up. Generally government school children have been affected much more and students who have been in Class 1 are now promoted to Class 3 without learning anything. It will have  a detrimental effect.”

 

Dr.Mrs.B Gayethri Devi
Principal, Little Flower Public School, Benguluru

“It is high time schools reopen. A panel comprising psychologists, psychiatrists, educationists, experts from health department have given a green signal for reopening of schools. There should not be more than 200 students at one go and it is up to the schools to decide if they call students in batches or on alternate days.”

“The government in Karnataka wants to reopen schools for Classes 9,10,11 & 12 from August 23.”

 

 

Y. Shekar Rao, President,TRSMA

The medical mafia and Edtech companies do not want schools to reopen and are playing a major role in influencing governments. Parents, teachers and students want to return to schools. It is due to a certain section of parents with vested interests that schools are not reopening. In Telangana, a few parents have gone to courts and in the process affected the growth of majority.

It is a well-known fact that Covid-19 does not affect school children. The best way to start schools is to initially begin with two hours of class and increase slowly. Also, the school managements’ are responsible and would have thermal screening and masks. Schools can start with shift system and alternate days.

  • Status of school reopening

Some states have already opened schools for higher classes and many states have set up committees to look into the matter. A few would be reopening as you read as many state governments decided to open schools from August 16.

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in a meeting with the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) decided to constitute a committee of experts to evaluate the matter of school reopening in the national capital. Here is a list of the state-wise decisions on school reopening:

Maharashtra

Maharashtra has announced the reopening of physical classes in schools in both rural and urban areas from August 17.  “Offline classes will commence in rural areas for students from classes 5 to 8, while those in cities will be for students from classes 8 to 12 following Covid-19 protocols,” Maharashtra Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad said.

Meghalaya

Meghalaya is looking to reopen educational institutions after mid-August.

Delhi

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in a meeting with the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) decided to constitute a committee of experts to evaluate the matter of school reopening in the national capital.

Karnataka

The Karnataka government has decided to resume offline classes for students of class 9 and 10, and for pre-university college students (equivalent to Classes 11 and 12) from August 23. The decision was taken in a high-level committee meeting held by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.

Uttar Pradesh

The Uttar Pradesh state government had announced the reopening of schools for intermediate students from August 16, 2021, with 50 per cent capacity.

Odisha

Schools across Odisha had reopened for students of classes 10 and 12 on July 26 after a gap of more than three months. The state government is also planning to reopen schools for classes 9 and 11 from August 16 and September 15 respectively, department officials said.

Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh will reopen schools from August 16 and the government plans to start schools according to the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) by introducing six types of schools — from Pre-Primary (PP)-1 to class 12.

Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu state government has announced the reopening of schools for students of Classes 9-12 with 50 per cent capacity at a time following standard operating procedures from September 1.

West Bengal

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said her government is weighing options for reopening schools and colleges on alternate days after the Durga Puja vacation in November.

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