As the world slowly limps back to normalcy – or rather towards a new normal – parents and students express concern over the reopening of schools and the future of academics. The past few months were fraught with tension regarding the conducting of suspended examinations, declaration of results, and of course, the reopening of school. All that is now in the past and while most schools have settled down to online teaching, there is still turbulence regarding reopening of schools. UNICEF reports that by early June, 70 countries had reopened schools coming up with radical solutions in the face of the COVID pandemic. BYN brings you a snapshot of the situation till date.
Different countries have reacted differently to the pandemic situation but one underlying thread that unites all efforts is the safety concern. This concern is multiplied manifold when it comes to children given their inherent frolic nature and the difficulty of maintaining social distancing within a classroom or indeed keeping masks on and managing break times. Decisions regarding reopening of schools have been a constant concern for parents who swing between two extremes – reopening schools and continuing education or staying home and staying safe.
Related Read – Education Post COVID – What to expect
Here are some pertinent questions that parents should ask their school teacher/principal / or administrator, before consenting to send their child to school. Many of these have been recommended by UNICEF.
- What steps has the school taken to ensure the safety of the children?
- What will the school do if a child is taken ill?
- How will the school handle the stigma if a child tests positive or has been away because of other illness?
- How will the school handle children with special needs?
- How many students will study together in a single classroom?
- Will the school provide sanitizers, soap, masks, and other facilities?
- How will the school handle PTA meetings, complaints, and other issues?
- What about breaks and midday meals?
- How much importance will be assigned to attendance, home assignments, and other day-to-day activities?
- How will the practical training be handled vis-a-vis the cleaning and sanitization of equipment?
- What precautions should parents take when sending their child to school?
- How can parents support the school’s efforts?
As a parent, you might think of a few more. Please do share them in the comment box so that it may benefit other parents too.
Precautions at School
If indeed the decision to reopen schools is taken the UNICEF recommends certain precautionary measures as under –
- Staggering school day admitting only a limited number of students per classroom.
- Staggering breaks and mealtimes
- Creating additional classroom space either outdoors or by utilizing auditoriums, conference halls and other spaces.
- Ensuring frequent hand washing
- Ensuring respiratory etiquette such as wearing a mask, and coughing or sneezing into the elbow.
- Ensuring safe eating habits while maintaining social distance
- Discouraging sharing of stationery and other items – to maintain social distance
- Abstinence from home assignments and adherence to roll call for at least the first 6 months.
- Reduction of the syllabus wherever possible
- Assessments in the form of MCQ where possible relieving the stress of “mugging” long texts.
The UNICEF also recommends training of teaching and non-teaching staff of educational institutions on maintaining the safety of children as well as staff within the school. While the UNICEF is silent on the point, common sense says that these precautions extend to travelling to and from school since many students utilize transportation provided by the school or public transport.
Preparing your child
During the Pandemic lockdown situation, children around the globe rejoiced at the thought of an extended vacation. This does not, however, mean that children were not stressed as much as – or perhaps more than – their parents. It is important to remember that children deal with stress differently. Moreover, when the child returns to school this stress is likely to multiply manifold. Therefore although you may be concerned about his return to school – and rightly so – it is important to stay calm while still training your child to adapt to the new school atmosphere. Some important things you might want to teach your child are –
- Wash/sanitize hands every half hour – after every period at school
- Wash hands with soap and water before eating or drinking anything
- Do not touch any surface unless necessary
- Keep your mask on at all times
- Do not touch your mask or your face – particularly when at school
- Sip water frequently
- Gargle during break times and when washing hands
- Do not share stationery and other items with friends unless necessary
Again, if you think of anything else feel free to share in the comments section.
The Situation in India
Educational institutes pan-India were shut down on March 24th when the Central Government imposed a nationwide lockdown following the Coronavirus pandemic. On 8th of June 2020, the Prime Minister announced Unlock 1.0 with very limited relaxations that did not include schools. While the country waited with bated breath for unlock 2.0, schools – that usually open for a new academic year in June – began seeking alternatives to educate their children. Parents too began looking for Homeschooling alternatives. When unlock 2.0 was announced on June 30th to commence from July 1st 2020, it contained no mention of schools. More recently there have been some rumours as well as media reports that a phase-wise re-opening of schools is in the offing. However, Hindustan Times reports that there is as yet no timeline determined for re-opening of schools and colleges. According to HT,
The ministry officials also emphasized before the panel that there would be no zero year. They also apprised the panel of the efforts made to gauge the effectiveness of the online teaching mode. Surveys, etc, are being conducted, including in municipal schools, to find out ways to make teaching more effective,
The Hindu reported the Education Minister, Shree C. Ravindranath as saying the “online classes for academic engagement of students are a step towards re-opening”. According to the same report, Ravindranath also said that discussions are underway for ensuring the physical presence of students in the class and projections on how to continue if an outbreak occurs after schools reopen. The Week reports that reopening of schools is likely to be phased out with Class 10-12 being opened first with different sections attending school on different days. This would be followed by re-opening of classes 6 to 9. Schools will be required to spread the students out utilizing primary and pre-primary classrooms for secondary students with not more than 5 or 6 students per classroom and school hours being limited to 2 – 3 hours. Schools will therefore likely run in shifts to accommodate all students.
The Global Scenario
Even as India debates upon whether or not to re-open educational institutions, around the world many countries and states have made forays into these unchartered waters. In New South Wales, for instance, schools began with once a week of physical attendance. By doing this, they ensured that students from all grades visited the school while still maintaining social distance. The department of education recommended that schools have 25% of their student body on campus every day but the actual logistics were left to the schools. Many new cases were reported to post the phased reopening of schools resulting in protests from parents reports World Socialist Web Site. When the Copenhagen International School in Denmark opened its doors first to preschoolers, strict guidelines for social distancing were set in place. Gradually grades 6 to 10 were welcomed back while the seniors stayed home as they had completed their graduation requirements. A school in Taiwan required parents to fill out travel questionnaires and checked the temperature of students regularly. Students showing a temperature of 37.4o C or above were taken to a screening room. The school set up alcohol based sanitizer stalls across the campus and encouraged students to use them.
Schools around the world have experimented with various ways to get children back to the life they lived before COVID and return to school. However, the situation is still risky and any attempt at normalcy must be approached with caution. Moreover, the decision of whether or not to send the children back to school rests with the parents – and in India, parents are as yet reluctant to send their children back to school.
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