By Damayanti Bhattacharya, Principal of Jasudben ML School.
One of the most critical aspects of this pandemic has been the decisions to enter each and every unlock phase. As we move forward to slowly opening up the economy, those most at risk, are yet advised to stay back patiently until all safety and precautionary steps have been undertaken. Among these include senior citizens and children. Although children are showing better signs of recovery or resistance to the pandemic, the fear of children contracting the virus is not something that is or should be handled lightly.
That being said, we are almost done with 2020 and half a year of the regular schooling period. Although schools, institutions and universities were quick in adapting to the new norms of online learning, a recent study by the Azim Premji University found that parents are open to sending their children to school as online learning is not as effective as in-school learning.
In fact parents were vocal about the concerns by expressing that ‘issues of access as well as learning difficulties with online mode is hampering the education of many students’. The study also highlighted that due to lack of accessibility, several children are yet not receiving any learning through digital means. For a school, work does not begin and end at teaching a child. There are several other factors to consider while re-opening a school.
Schools need to assess the feasibility of opening schools by evaluating safety and precautionary measures with regards to children, teachers, supporting staff and infrastructure.
Ensure safety and hygiene of the building
The first step would be to discuss with the local health authorities about the safety of the school building and surroundings. This would be essential to curb contagion from the communities, which means communities would need to take additional efforts to ensure movement around the school building is carried out safely. Schools will also need to carry out fumigation in all areas of the building especially in the classrooms, playgrounds, common areas, washrooms, cafeteria, teacher office spaces, etc.
Train school staff for additional responsibilities
Teachers and school staff being one of the most important aspects of school and learning, will have the additional responsibility of managing the safety of children in addition to managing their learning. Teachers in classrooms and support staff in common areas will now have to ensure that when the school opens, its students follow all safety protocols.
Furthermore, the staff would also need to be prepared in crisis and situation management, to be able to effectively confront and manage each and every situation that could occur, as children by themselves may not be maturely equipped to deal with any problems.
Recommended school reopening protocols
After preparing a safe building for students to come back to schools, some standard operating procedures will have to be set and implemented, such as:
- enforcing physical distancing guidelines
- encouraging regular washing and sanitizing of hands
- Usage of masks and / or face cloths for all entering the school premises
- Mandatory temperature checks
- Placement of school desks at a distance
- Daily cleaning and disinfecting of the school
- Limited movement of students in the premises
- Discourage sharing of essential resources – provision of school essential materials is advisable
Activities in school must be managed efficiently
Schools offering transport services must ensure that social distancing is followed in the buses. An ideal practice would be to reduce the number of riders in each vehicle and increase the frequency of travel. Proper distancing must be maintained, wherein every alternate seat must be crossed off to indicate that students must not sit together.
Schools offering food and beverage services must also follow a similar practice of daily cleaning and sanitation alongside physical distancing by crossing off alternate seats. If allowed to play outside on the playground, students must not move around and engage in larger groups, assigning small groups can help manage this activity smoothly.
Emergency plans and protocols must be in place
Schools along with parents and local authorities should effectively plan and be prepared to mitigate any crisis. Everyone around a child, parents, teachers, support staff, neighbours, other students can contract COVID-19. Self-observation and for children is mandatory. If anyone around students is tested positive, they should immediately inform the school so that preventive measures can be implemented. Local authorities, schools and parents must be vigilant and constantly keep a watch on news regarding rising cases in their locality to exercise caution.
Provide ample support to students
This is a difficult time for everyone and especially these children as many may not understand or would be quick to comprehend the situation, assess the repercussions of their actions. As their support it is our duty and responsibility to educate them and increase awareness about the current situation and assist them with best practices.
Schools would also need to ensure that children are eased into learning and not rushed as all of these changes were unexpected and they might yet be processing and adapting to the new normal. Teachers would need to keep in mind that although half the year is over, children cannot be rushed into the syllabus. New and effective methods of covering the syllabus would need to be introduced so that the students can learn and absorb the learning seamlessly.