Reopening schools, colleges

Kashmir Times. Dated: 10/12/2020 11:20:30 PM

Virtual classroom and learning need to be reimagined, students in schools, colleges decision should be left to local communities

The NDA-government’s decision in principle to reopen schools and colleges for students after October 15, 2020 across the country appears to have been taken in a haste. As the cases of infections of Coronavirus are rising across India, the central government has been unlocking in various sector step by step which does not take into consideration the concerns of the people, who have to attend to their work and students attending the schools and colleges. In fact, the predictions and calculations show that pandemic will be peaking in December this year in India, the centre is yet to wake up from its deep slumber to increasing challenges posed by the Covid-19. The lockdown was an opportunity for the centre as well as the states to increase their medical facilities to meet the challenge posed by increasing number of patients. But, the centre does not appear to be serious in extending a helping hand to the states in ramping up their testing and treatment facilities despite having collected billions of Rupees in the PM-CARES Fund. It is unfortunate that the Funds collected are being spent on the discretion of the Prime Minister and not taking into consideration the needs of the people in different states. Now, the discretion to open classrooms should lie with the states on pace of doing so and also assess their own ability to check spread of the deadly contagion. The pandemic has definitely thrown up an impossibly hard choices for the educational institutions, students and the community of parents and teachers. The latter will be in the fore front to tackle the challenges faced by the students. For close to eight months, even the most-privileged students have been able to access only a limited resource of learning via digital devices. The figures suggest that only 12 students were able to have access the services in metropolitan cities while the number of students in hinterland was less than half of this percentage. The students in areas, where there was no internet facility can be well imagined. The digital divide has put a majority of children, especially the most vulnerable in terms of gender, class and caste, at the risk of being abandoned by the school system. The loss is not just in terms of learning outcomes, but also the accessibility. The functional school is, among other things, a safety net, preventing students from falling into child marriage or daily-wage labour. The hot mid-day meal served to over 120 million children a day is a defence against child malnutrition across the country.
It estimated that nearly 50 million children may not return to schools in the primary and middle level classes. In this backdrop, it is important that state governments, local administrations and communities have the freedom to decide how to bring back the children. Cities where coronavirus infections show no sign of abating have to remain cautious, especially given recent research on the capacity of children to spread the virus. In rural areas and districts where the virus did not have a free run, teachers and community leaders are best placed to shape the school experience. They will have to decide whether to bring back the oldest students first, and how many shifts to run. The new classroom that will welcome students back will be a vastly different experience. It will be a quieter place, with fewer students, and a regime of social distancing, handwashing and hygiene reinforced through floor drawings and posters. The school will have to re-imagine ways to create a sense of solidarity, while ensuring distance and safety. The protocols on how to respond in case of an infection and how to transport children safely must be in place before schools can reopen. The decision to do away with rigours of tests and passing examinations is a different thing. A decentralised approach will work best in opening up the classroom during a pandemic, the schools must ensure that the process to catch up on lessons and syllabi is stress-free but attuned to the needs of the individual student.



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