Reopening of schools have begun pan-India as per Covid protocols to address challenges of the impending third Covid wave in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Bihar, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Assam and many more are in the process.
This comes as a relief for around 300 plus million Indian children who remained away from classrooms and relied on online classes or distance learning. Most states ordered schools to close as India started facing a coronavirus outbreak last year. Now, parents and children are all geared up to make a new start.
The Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) had framed, published, and widely disseminated its Guidelines and Recommendations on ‘School Reopening, Remote Learning, and Curriculum during and after COVID- 19 Pandemic’ to address schooling issues during the pandemic.
The school administration also has a dual challenge to maintain physical distance amongst children and also give them a conducive environment to adapt to the changes in the new normal.
“The decision to open schools should be taken based on cases and the vaccination rate. However the decision to open schools must not be taken as a national or even a state wide decision – it should be as localised a decision as possible i.e. at a district level if not at a more hyper local level – enabling swift closures if there are any spikes in cases,” said Raghavendra Prasad, Founder, Project StepOne.
Bengaluru based Project StepOne is India’s leading non-profit, volunteer driven teleconsultation collective.
“Studies have shown that schools do not act as significant sources of viral transmission. Government authorities, school administrators, and parents appear to be in dilemma and confusion. The decision for school reopening, therefore, needs to be taken vigilantly with a scientific temper. Indian Academy of Pediatrics constituted a ‘Task Force on School Reopening 2021’ to review and update its earlier recommendations in the current context and scientific evidence,” informed Dr. Bakul Parekh, President, IAP 2020.
The IAP and IAP intensive care chapter has partnered with Project StepOne to launch a certified Pediatric COVID Intensive Care Course covering all the aspects of COVID from introduction of covid, lab diagnosis, transport of sick kid, management of MISC, delivery system to everything that’s needed to curb the effect anticipated in the future waves. These sessions will be delivered by expert faculty, who are senior specialists and practitioners with Covid experience, especially in treating children of varied levels of Covid infection.
“We hope to train about 5000 doctors over the course of a month to prepare doctors who can step up as pediatrics if the third wave hits as bad as the second wave,” Dr Parekh added.
It has been noticed that over the last two years, because children have been having online classes, it’s become really difficult for students to continue over time.
“Before the devastating pandemic, whenever I used to struggle for waking up early for school, I used to wish that there be a system which would allow me to attend school from the comfort of my own home. Now that I’ve got a taste of online school, I’ve realised that this is not at all what I wished for. I miss meeting my friends, sharing lunch with them, talking to my teachers. Even doing homework and waking up early in the morning, tasks that I used to despise, now seem like a trivial price I’d pay in a heartbeat to be able to go back to school,” said Vania Nayal, Grade 10, St. Xaviers’s High School, Gurgaon.
Echoing similar views, Dehradun based Katyaynee Thapliyal recalled, “I’ve completed my graduation in this prevailing pandemic. The online lectures were nowhere in comparison to offline lectures and we missed out on our co-curricular activities and many other campus festivities.”
According to Dr. Kersi Chavda, consultant psychiatrist, P D Hinduja Hospital, Khar & Medical Research Centre, Khar Facility, Mumbai, “One of the most fundamental things, especially for younger children, is socialisation. Given that children in Covid affected areas were isolated and did not even make a trip to the park to meet up with other kids, this became a huge issue as well. When it comes to economically disadvantaged children, there are those who do not have access to smartphones. As a result, their education is jeopardised severely. We’re dealing with a large number of children, which has resulted in a digital divide.”
Ahmed Khan, owner of Go Biryani and father of an 8 year old son has a word of caution, “I think the schools should not open considering the current Covid situation. Children below the age of 12 should focus on online classes and avoid being put into a situation where social distancing is hard to control. There is a risk factor which puts ourselves and our children’s health on stake. The online classes seem to be good and there should be more online activities for children especially under the age of 10.”
Dr. Chavda further recommended that there should also be a system in place in schools that enables students to socially distance themselves and arrive and leave at staggered times. And when the situation improves and it is no longer as terrifying as we anticipated.
“With the impending third wave, it would be unwise to put kids at risk. For the school, the teacher will have to maintain Covid-19 protocols including safe distancing which seems like a tough task. The teacher will be under a lot of pressure and in a class of 30+ children this will impact studies. The school can’t rely on offline classes alone. It should adopt a hybrid model,” according to Shilpi A Singh, a freelance journalist and a mother of two children.
In order to address key challenges around reopening of schools, Dr Divya Raina Mandal, School Counselor, St. Mary School, Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh (HP), said, “Many children are both excited and resentful about the reopening of schools. Coming out of the comforts of their homes and few hours of classes and excuses for having network issues doesn’t seem to be working anymore. The next difficulty for parents and schools will be children’s lack of motivation and rebellious conduct as a result of their dread of the virus and lockdowns. Another major worry is a lack of compliance with the laws of social distance and sanitization. To help resolve these issues, mandatory sessions with parents and children by their school counsellors should be planned to help resolve these concerns, informing them about the importance of maintaining COVID 19 social rules.”
Many children are both excited and resentful about the reopening of schools. Coming out of the comforts of their homes and few hours of classes, and excuses for having network issues doesn’t seem to be working anymore. The next difficulty for parents and schools will be children’s lack of motivation and rebellious conduct as a result of their dread of the virus and lockdowns. Another major worry is a lack of compliance with the laws of social distance and sanitization.
According to Dr. Neerja Singh, Consultant Psychologist and Lecturer, Doon University, Dehradun, “To help resolve these issues, mandatory sessions with parents and children by their school counselors should be planned to help resolve their concerns, informing them about the importance of maintaining COVID 19 social rules.”
“Another cause for developing sickness is the lack of social distance provided by public transportation. Adults escorting youngsters should be fully vaccinated, and schools should make this a requirement to enter school grounds. Parents should have their children tested for RTPCR at least once before enrolling in school. Children who are sick should stay at home and must submit another RTPCR when they return,” Dr. Neerja Singh recommended.
“I’ve been in contact with 45+ Colleges and Universities across Delhi NCR. My judgement is that fully-vaccinated students can be allowed into the campus and that too only if the institute maintains a campus housing. Even so, they must adhere to strict covid protocols. I’ve heard of hybrid systems, where these institutions have limited students in the classroom while the rest of them are online. It’s an interesting feature, to say the least. But again, it’s tricky because the virus is so unpredictable; even those vaccinated are still putting themselves and their neighbours in danger. So this becomes one of those dilemmas over how we could tackle it so seamlessly so as to rejoice in a win-win situation. As for young children in school, it’s a different story altogether. These kids need simply to stick at home for as long as there’s a functional vaccine for them,” Areeb Anwar, Country Manager, The Student Promise concluded.