To reopen schools or not? Many states in dilemma

To reopen schools or not? Many states in dilemma

Nearly half the academic year gone, the trade-off between access to education and safety during a pandemic has not been an easy one to negotiate across India. While some states have opened schools with an abundance of caution, the surge in cases right after despite the safety measures has made other states put their plans on hold.

Tamil Nadu, which had initially announced schools and colleges would resume classes from November 16, will seek the opinion of parents on Monday. Telangana is also holding consultations while Meghalaya will take a call later this month. Sikkim had earlier announced it would resume classes but has now deferred its plans.

The cautionary tale has been that of Andhra Pradesh, where 879 teachers and 575 students have tested positive for Covid-19 so far. While the teachers had all tested positive before school reopened on November 2, the students tested after. Schools have not been shut. But because of the spike in Andhra, neighbouring Odisha has shelved its plan to reopen schools gradually from November 16.

For most states that did decide to reopen earlier, shutting down again is not on the cards. In Uttarakhand, for instance, 80 teachers from 23 schools in Pauri Garhwal district tested positive. After shutting the schools for five days so they can be sanitised, they will open again. In Haryana, three students at a government school in Narwana tested positive after schools reopened on November 2. After a few days’ gap, other students will be back on Monday. In Punjab, where four teachers in Fazilka district tested positive after going back to classrooms on October 19, schools will reopen but with “all precautions in place,” district education officer Sukhveer Singh Bal said.

It is only Himachal Pradesh, where 40 teachers have tested positive, and Mizoram, where eight students were infected, that schools with Covid cases have been shut again indefinitely. But can students afford closure? The online shift has made access a problem in rural and remote areas for children of migrant workers and those from underprivileged families. While states like Bihar and Himachal tried to get books across to students, the lack of guidance from teachers meant the gap could not be closed, especially for first-generation learners. “We are worried about our children. While they have shut things down for safety, how will our children study?” asked Khem Chand, whose daughter studies at Thunang School in Mandi.

With this in mind, Karnataka had launched an outreach programme, Vidyagama, for 47 lakh government school students. Teachers would meet children in small groups in places like parks, playgrounds or temples. By October 10, the government had to suspend the programme when Covid hit those attending — 34 children in Belagavi and Kalaburagi tested positive, a government school teacher from Moodabidiri died and another from south Karnataka got infected. Karnataka has no plan to reopen schools anytime soon.

Nor do Delhi, West Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand. Project officer of Jharkhand Project Education Council Sailesh Kumar Chourasia said, “Policymakers are also considering the number of festivals coming up which would mean intermittent closure in any case.”

Three states, however, have decided to reopen schools but only for students appearing for the boards — Arunachal Pradesh will begin on November 16, Goa will resume classes from November 21 and Maharashtra will do so from November 23. Maharashtra’s unlock guidelines on October 14 had allowed 50% teaching and non-teaching staff to be called to schools. On Saturday, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray approved the plan.

So far, only four states have managed to open schools without witnessing any surge in Covid-19 cases — Assam, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. “Deputy commissioners in each district have been asked to keep an eye on the situation,” Assam education principal secretary B Kalayan Chakravarthy said.

In UP, where classes started on October 15, students have been asked to turn up with written undertaking from their parents that they don’t have symptoms. However, attendance has been a low 20%. In Bihar, government schools are yet to open because of the assembly elections but private schools have not reported any cases, Bihar coordinator for CBSE Rajiv Ranjan Singh said.

In Madhya Pradesh, the positivity rate among children in Bhopal went up in the fortnight since schools reopened partially — from 5.6% to 9% between the last week of September and the first week of October. But since only about 2% children went to school then, it’s difficult to say if the two were related.
Source From : Times Of India

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