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As Covid third wave threat looms, is reopening schools a safe decision? Experts weigh in

Several states including Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Lakshadweep, Puducherry, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh opened schools in the first week of August. Others such as Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh followed the suit from August 16.

Written by Sheetal Banchariya | New Delhi |
Updated: August 23, 2021 3:02:17 pm
school reopening, schools reopenSchools across the country are gradually reopening. File.

The coronavirus cases continue to drop across the country and consequently, public places, offices, parks and educational institutions are gradually reopening with safety protocols. Several states including Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Lakshadweep, Puducherry, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh opened schools in the first week of August. Others such as Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh followed the suit from August 16.

While Covid cases are dropping down the scale, there are still speculations about the possibility of a third wave. With the third wave of coronavirus expected to hit India in the upcoming months, are state governments making the right move by deciding to reopen schools? Experts and academicians seem to be divided on the matter.

Covid has caused unprecedented learning loss

Ajeenkya DY Patil, Chairman of the DY Patil International School, Pune, said that online instruction has its own advantages, but it cannot fulfil the gap created by the lack of formal instruction.

Chairman of the DY Patil International School, Pune, Ajeenkya DY Patil.

“All universities, colleges and schools must reopen. Educational institutions are the most disciplined of fraternities after the armed forces. We understand limitations and rules and are used to following them and enforcing them. The amount of harm that locking the campuses has brought to the students is unprecedented. Discussions around hospitality industry, retail industry, but we hardly hear discussions about education,” Patil said.

Students’ mental health and emotional well-being must be prioritised

The reopening of schools is a decision taken in the best interest of students who have kept away from the normal face-to-face academic learning and peer-interaction for a long time now, said Manju Rana principal-cum-director, Seth Anandram Jaipuria School, Vasundhara, Ghaziabad.

Manju Rana, principal-cum-director, Seth Anandram Jaipuria School.

“All teachers and staff are vaccinated; strict protocols for social distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitization are in place. The classes are being held in shifts so that student occupancy can be reduced to 50 per cent to ensure the ease of maintaining social distancing. As far as the third wave of Covid-19 is concerned, we hope it never comes. We also need to seriously consider the mental health and socio-emotional wellbeing of students, which can be best addressed when students come to school and return to the normalcy of interacting with teachers and friends,” Rana said.

School reopening to create panic

The academicians are divided on the need of reopening schools amid the speculations of a possible third covid wave. Some teachers believe that schools should focus on fool-proofing the virtual learning mechanism instead of relying on physical classes alone.

Baljeet Oberoi, Principal, Oakridge International School.

“As a principal, it is my responsibility to keep in mind the safety and well-being of children as the utmost priority. Educational institutions must focus on building a strong uninterrupted virtual learning structure that challenges and engages students productively rather than creating panic among all stakeholders about the school reopening at this point. In the present scenario, all educational institutions must act sensibly and not compromise on the safety of children,” said Baljeet Oberoi, Principal, Oakridge International School, Bachupally, Telangana.

While adults are concerned about children’s health, kids are equally bothered by the mundane routine and inability to connect with peers. Since most young children find joy by playing in open fields, being restricted inside the four walls of their homes is hampering their spirits.

Students longing to experience school life

“Owing to the current pandemic and the most feared delta variant has emotionally drained us. It is giving us shivers to even think about the outcome as it is likely to infect the children more. It seems like an eternity now since the schools are shut physically. My seniors of classes 9 and above are going to school on alternate days and learning through a blended model. I wish the schools reopen soon and we get to go to our classrooms, play in the ground with friends, go to the corridors and have fun. I am missing my teachers, friends and my school and wish to go back as soon as possible,” said Abhisant Panigrahi, a class 8 student at the SAI International School, Bhubaneswar.

Learning to live with Covid

The amount of learning loss and social-emotional health issues that children have faced during this pandemic has been unprecedented. States are now taking bold decisions regarding reopening schools slowly, with strict protocols.

Anirudh Khaitan, Treasurer, FICCI ARISE and vice chairman, Khaitan Public School.

“All over the world, schools have started opening with sanitisation rules, mask mandates and social distancing. Going forward, Covid is not going away. We have to learn to live with it. It is not like children are even sitting at home now, they are visiting family, friends and even once in a while going to restaurants. Therefore, it seems but natural that schools should open with strict covid restrictions so we can wean back into normalcy,” said Anirudh Khaitan, Treasurer, FICCI ARISE and vice chairman, Khaitan Public School.

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