Updated: September 2, 2021 5:49:17 am
At a government primary school in Lucknow, a sense of relief prevailed among students as they found themselves back amongst friends after months, free of the constraints of online classes and a hot meal waiting for them. Officials said 1.5 lakh government primary schools across Uttar Pradesh reopened on Wednesday as the state steadily started unlocking following the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic.
Ananya Kanaujia and Nargis Bano, Class 5 students at the school in Lucknow’s Bhikampur area, sounded happy as they met after such a “long time”. Primary schools were briefly reopened this March after staying closed for a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and were quickly closed again in April.
“I am really happy to be back in school because I could not follow the classes from home. Also, I am getting to meet my friends here after so long,” said Nargis, who wants to be an engineer. Her father works as a daily wage labourer while her mother is a domestic help. Ananya, meanwhile, said she would become a doctor after growing up.
Asked why she could not follow online classes, Nargis said in her family only her father had a smartphone, and he required it for work.
The official in charge of the school, Roli Shukla, said most students could not cope with online classes because of financial constraints. “Most of my students come from slums where the primary concern for parents is to feed their children. They don’t have the means to give a separate phone to their children. Most of the students have come back looking blank and have forgotten what was taught to them,” Shukla said as she handed out a bottle of hand sanitiser to a student waiting for his midday meal.
Shukla said the school had made all arrangements for the Covid protocol to be followed. “I have bought a thermal scanner and sanitisers. All students were told to wear a mask from home, and all of them have been told to not sit close to each other and also, to not share books and stationery. We are being very strict about the protocol. We have also advised students who have a cold or fever to skip school till they get better.”
The official said 32 of 77 students were present on Wednesday. “We are expecting more students to come in the coming days. And since our attendance is lower than 50 per cent, we are not having to have classes in two shifts. When attendance increases, we will see what to do,” she added.
Sitting in the same room as Nargis and Ananya, Class 4 student Krishna Kumar said he was glad to see the school reopen.
“Yahaan aane se dimag badhta hai. Ghar pe kuch nahi seekhta tha [I become smarter when I come here. I learn nothing while sitting at home],” said Krishna, the most outspoken in the room.
Asked what he would have been doing had the school not reopened, Krishna, who loves mathematics, said, “Sleeping. My parents would leave in the morning and then I would sleep more.” He then quickly added, “I didn’t like being home. When you come to school, you learn things and also get food.”
When asked what was on the lunch menu, all the students in the room piped up, saying in unison, “Tehri aur kheer [rice pulao and pudding].”
Around noon, the food arrived in two steel containers, and two students were given the task of distributing it. Most students carried tiffin boxes to use them as plates to eat the lunch. Having managed to get some rice in a casserole, and happily eating his lunch, Ankit Gupta, a student, said sheepishly, “This is good [pointing to the rice]. I am quite excited about the pudding. I might just take some home.”
The students seemed happy that the school had reopened but many of them said they were “annoyed” with the Covid protocols. “Ma’am ji ne bola hai toh karna toh padega. Nahi toh mask pehenna bada mushkil lag raha hai. [The teacher has asked us to, and hence we will have to wear the masks. Otherwise, it is quite difficult to wear it],” said Ankit, adding that he too could not attend online classes.
Basic Education Department Additional Director Lalita Pradeep said the response from students and teachers was “very good”. She added, “The students and teachers showed great enthusiasm. We have received positive responses from everywhere. Some schools held special functions to celebrate the reopening of schools on Wednesday.”
The government official said a strict Covid protocol was followed everywhere. “Thermal scanning, sanitisers, masks have been ensured at every school and social distancing norms have been followed,” she added.
Though schools had reopened with new rules and regulations in place, Roli said the old problems persist. She complained that the school’s electricity supply was disconnected in January because of unpaid bills.
“Because there is no power, there is no water and the handpump also doesn’t work properly because of low water levels. Students can’t wash their hands after going to the toilet. And hence, they are being forced to use sanitisers. This is a major issue for the students as well as teachers,” added Roli.
Around 1 pm, the students, having eaten their fill, readied to return home. Two Class 3 students discussed how being at the school was better than sleeping in their homes. “I hope Covid doesn’t come back and schools are not shut down again,” said Saba, one of the students, to her friend as they walked back home.
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