August 29, 2021 11:52:25 am
When schools reopen for physical classes on September 1, nearly 17 months after they were closed in Telangana, it will serve as an occasion to assess if there has indeed been a migration of students from private schools to government schools during the pandemic.
According to government estimates, over one lakh new admissions are reported in government schools this year. The School Education department, however, maintains that it is too early to suggest considerable migration from private to government schools, though officials acknowledge there has been a marginal rise in enrolments in most government schools.
A decision to restart physical classes for students — kindergarten to postgraduate — to attend physical classes was taken by the state government following a detailed report by the Health department suggesting that the pandemic was under control in the state. However, a lack of clear-cut guidelines for the functioning of private schools has left both parents as well as management concerned. Furthering the concerns of parents, Education minister P Sabitha Indra Reddy has clarified that online classes will not be held once physical classes commence.
About 60 lakh students are expected to return to school. Of them, about 32 lakh are students of private schools. Of the total 41,000 schools in the state, only about 11,000 are in the private sector. An increase of 1.14 lakh new admissions in government schools this year is being attributed to multiple factors, including financial constraints faced by parents during the pandemic and their inability to pay private schools various fees during the shutdown period.
“Enrollment in schools is a continuous process as we continue to identify children and mainstream them. There has been a marginal rise in enrolments but until a child starts coming to school, one cannot say anything,” said an official in the department. The estimates available were recorded before the government announced its decision to reopen schools on September 1. “We have to wait for some time to declare the number of admissions, strength, attendance, probable migration from private schools or to private schools,” the official added.
Welcoming the government’s decision to reopen schools, Chava Ravi, a government teacher and general secretary of Telangana State United Teachers Federation (TS-UTF) echoed similar views. “According to the government, enrolments this year have gone up by a lakh new students. As schools reopen, many students may go back to private schools,” he said.
According to him, during the period when schools were shut owing to the pandemic, parents of private school students were hesitant to pay fees for mere online classes as they were facing financial constraints. “Many parents during this time enrolled their children in government schools to just keep their names on the rolls. Once private schools resume physical classes, they may join back those schools,” he added.
The Telangana Recognised Schools Management Association (TRSMA), which represents nearly 9,000 private budget schools across the state, is not sure if all schools would be able to reopen on September 1 if Covid norms are to be followed. It is of the view that opening up fully and having all classes simultaneously may prove counterproductive. “Our schools are usually run from small rented spaces. We gave a proposal to the state government to allow us to conduct classes on an odd-even basis for alternate days so that we can reduce the number of students at once by 50 per cent. We should be allowed to conduct classes in morning and afternoon shifts to contain the gathering of students further. Operating all classes at the same time is not a good idea,” said S Madhusudhan, vice-president of TRSMA.
Seema Agarwal, who represents the Hyderabad School Parents Association (HSPA), said she would wait for a few days before sending her daughter, who is in 10th grade, back to school. “Most parents are concerned today as we have seen how cases have risen in AP after schools reopened. Even as there is a threat of a third wave looming, there is still no vaccination for children. We don’t even know if all teachers and non-teaching staff in all schools have been vaccinated or not,” she rued.
“The government did not consult with parents before announcing its decision to start physical classes for students of all age groups. What was the hurry?” she asked, suggesting that the government could have started with physical classes for higher grades and reopened in a phased manner. Sharing another concern of parents as the date for reopening is fast approaching, she said some schools have refused to conduct online classes and thereby forcing parents to send their children to school. “At least, they should allow a hybrid model to continue for a while before fully opening up.”
The official responded by saying the state government is clear that it wants students to return to schools. The government has reiterated that students were suffering from psychological issues as a result of online education. “About 22 states have reopened schools. We cannot go on with online classes indefinitely. When all other sectors have opened up, we have to make an informed decision. This is a calculated risk that we have to take,” the official said, clarifying that private schools are asked to strictly adhere to Covid guidelines and that the government would not get into micromanaging schools with instructions.
About teachers in government schools, Ravi said “We are on a mission to reintegrate students back to the physical mode of functioning. I think we will have to strive hard for at least a month to prepare students for classrooms. They are coming back after being promoted two academic years without a final examination.” The students were promoted to the next grades in March 2020 and 2021 without having to write exams in the wake of rising cases of coronavirus. Although schools were reopened for a brief period in February 2021, a surge in Covid cases forced them to shut down again.
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