September 8, 2021 3:19:19 am
Admissions and methodology of teaching, either online or in-person, have been on the minds of students, parents and those running educational institutions in Maharashtra. But there are states like Delhi that have opened all schools and colleges for physical learning since September 1. Elaborate SOPs have been issued and there is a strict mechanism to track Covid cases as well as a provision to review and retract the relaxations if infections are spotted — a fairly unified regime with consent and participation of all stakeholders.
In Maharashtra , there are four distinct, and frankly disconnected, decision-making centres — the Department of School Education, Department of Higher Education, Department of Skill Development and the all-pervasive Health Ministry. The fifth agency everyone uses selectively is the Covid Task Force. And this Task Force periodically cautions everybody against the third wave. Each one has looked at the same epidemic-related symptoms and taken independent and inconsistent decisions. There seems to be no common thread as is evident with the recent announcements.
The School Education Department took an early lead and announced that schools will open in areas where Covid cases are few. Teachers were advised to vaccinate. But there was pushback since preparedness was minimal and children are not now being considered for vaccination and hence, are at greater risk. The concerned minister conceded by saying she is only relooking at the timeline. Her commitment to reopen stays.
The Higher Education Minister announced as early as August 15 that colleges and universities are willing to open but the task force cautioned against opening due to fear of the third wave. No announcements have been made while the entire fraternity waits after giving an assurance that all students and teachers will be vaccinated and observe social distancing norms in classrooms.
Meanwhile, the Skill Development Ministry appears from the background like a dark horse and opens up all ITIs and polytechnics, as well colleges offering skills courses, from September 1, since imparting skills requires physical presence — a valid reason. All students enter ITIs and polytechnics after Xth grade. So they are far, far younger than the age at which Covid vaccination is given, and practicals will require group working. And we wonder what happened to the Task Force warning of the third wave on the basis of which the Higher Education Minister had prevented vaccinated college students from attending physical classes. Should it also be inferred that the curriculum of engineering, architecture, audiovisual, photography etc is not skill-driven and so physical presence is not that essential?
In all this, the Health Ministry/Task Force is supposed to provide the overall risk assessment and directions to the Cabinet for reopening of various activities, including the education sector, to physical presence. The state government has taken a conscious decision, presumably with the consent of the Department of Health, that all other establishments like shops, offices, malls, restaurants, travel, coaching classes and parks, can be reopened notwithstanding third wave possibilities. They seem to hold the opposite view when it comes to sanitised colleges and universities. And the same Task Force/decision makers looked the other way
when it came to opening of skilling institutions with unvaccinated students.
When can the citizens of Maharashtra see a unified, consistent, logical and coherent Command?
Pradeep Bhargava is a former president of the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture. The views
expressed are personal.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.