January 19, 2021 11:44:08 am
At 6.45 am on Monday, “at least 60 per cent” of class 11 students who signed up for medical and engineering coaching at Kota’s Allen Career Institute in Kota, lined up in the coaching centre’s lobby, standing over stickers that were put a day ago to ensure social distancing. With identity cards around their necks, masks stretched over their faces, they each handed over a copy of their negative RT-PCR report to the guard, and made their way to classrooms where only one student could sit on a desk and chair meant for two. At 7 am, the Maths class kicked off.
Nearly 10 months after the pandemic forced Kota’s bustling Rs 3,000-crore coaching industry to halt abruptly, 300 of the town’s big and small centres opened their gates to students on Monday, with a revamp of its infrastructure in line with the Rajasthan government’s Covid-19 protocol. Apart from mandatory masks and sanitisers at classroom entrance, institutes such as Allen have installed ultra-violet lighting for sanitisation in classrooms, developed an Aarogya Setu-like app to monitor positive cases, and built a 31-bed hospital with an ambulance on call for students who show any Covid-19 symptoms.
On January 6, the Rajasthan government announced its decision to reopen schools, colleges and coaching centres in light of the dip in Covid-19 cases in the state.
“We had a two-hour meeting with heads of eight big coaching centres, three hostel associations and members of private school associations. We have given them a detailed presentation of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), and 11 teams will be doing the rounds of institutes daily. A new digital platform set up by the district administration will also go online today, where all institutes will have to update details about students who are coming from outside and their Covid-19 status,” said Kota District Collector Ujjawal Rathore.
The eight-page SOP document, stuck on the walls of all coaching centres in the town, calls for classes to function at 50 per cent strength, 30-minute gaps between classes, ‘No mask, no entry’ for students, daily sanitisation of stationery and furniture, among other measures.
During the meeting, the district administration also agreed to bear the cost of getting students with symptoms tested for Covid-19. As per estimates by the town’s prominent coaching centres, about 20,000-25,000 students attended the class on Monday, and “at least 10,000 are expected to arrive every day over the coming week” based on registrations.
As students returned over the past week, says Kota Hostel Association president Manish Jain, we also gathered feedback to understand their preferences. “They are all very happy to be back. About 85 per cent students said they preferred staying at the hostel, since there are fewer distractions here. Many also complained of weight gain because of staying at home, and poor vision because of spending long hours in front of the screen. All of them said they preferred physical classes and simple meals provided at the hostel,” said Jain.
The town’s 3,000 hostels and 2,000 paying guest accommodations have also been instructed to quarantine students from hotspots; have a counsellor on call to ensure the good mental health of students, and to provide them with “healthy meals” so that they don’t have to eat out. “The students are not allowed to step out of the hostel after 7 pm, and instead of going to shops, they have been told to order things online,” adds Jain.
Around 1 pm, as classes ended on Monday, many parents also visited coaching centres to check if all protocols were being followed. “We didn’t stop them. The students are very young and it is important for their parents to know that their children are safe. We have got a good response on the first day, and now we are in the process of sending out messages to students of other classes too.
It’s a three-step process – first, they have to respond with a ‘YES’ to our message; then we will upload their data on the district administration’s website, and finally, when they arrive, we will check their Covid test results,” explains a senior member at Allen Career Institute, the largest centre in the town with 22 campuses and 1.5 lakh students.
“Kota seemed very different today, there was a lot of buzz, and we are confident that in the next three months, we will return to our pre-pandemic numbers,” he added.
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