February 3, 2021 3:52:02 am
AT ABOUT 7.30am on Monday morning, Manjusha Shelke, a teacher in the Alibag Municipal Council-run primary school near the Kanhoji Angre Memorial in the city, drove in from the school gate on her two-wheeler, her face covered with a scarf. She, like many other teachers in municipal schools of Alibag, had been coming to school every day for pandemic-related surveys and other duties even if it was closed for students since the Covid-19 outbreak in March last year.
But Monday was different. It was the day that children from Class V to VII were to return to the school after months of remote learning.
While schools across the state, barring Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai, had opened to students from Class V to VIII last week, at the primary school 1 and 2 in Alibag, teachers awaited their RT-PCR test reports and decided to let students in only after all of them tested negative for Covid-19. The school premises were sanitised, the benches washed and the school had to return to the part after serving as a quarantine centre for jail inmates in Alibag through the months of the pandemic.
Apart from washing and sanitizing the premises, drawing green squares on the floor for safe distancing, in the classrooms on the first floor that were used as a makeshift quarantine centre for jail inmates, the windows that were sealed with metal bars holding them shut, were reopened with metal cutters, said Santosh Ambetkar, principal of the Marathi-medium school.
On Monday morning, Pritam Rathod, a Class VI student, was the first to walk up a flight of stairs to go to his classroom on the first floor. At the mouth of the staircase, he was greeted by principal Ambetkar and Shelke, who carried out a temperature check, an oxymeter reading and welcomed him back to school with a lilac Aster. Shelke demonstrated to the students how hands should be sanitised and fingers locked to let the liquid reach the recesses between the fingers. Sangeeta Pedhvi, who teaches Class III and IV in the school, made note of each student’s name, body temperature and oxymeter reading before they were shown to their classrooms.
In the Marathi-medium municipal school, two classrooms on the ground floor reopened for girls from Class V to VII, on the first floor were the classrooms for boys. Four classrooms in the school are currently being used by the Urdu medium municipal school, a new building for which is under construction. About 174 students were expected to return to the school — both Marathi and Urdu medium, said Alibag Municipal Council member Vrushali Thosar, who was at the school to watch children return. But since it was only the first day, the attendance was lesser than expected.
“Parents of most children in our schools work as labourers. Online schooling was not possible for them as many did not have smartphones and even if some did, parents did not want such young children handling expensive phones. It is only when a student comes to school in person that we can work on his personality development. It has been a long gap away from school so we will have to assess how much of the basics these children remember. We will have to be lenient with our assessment this year,” said Ambetkar.
In the boys’ Marathi medium classrooms on the first floor, consent letters were obtained from parents of all 26 students who were expected to return to school.
In each class, on every wooden bench, teachers had pasted handwritten labels with a student’s name. There was only one name on each bench. But eight names were on no bench and yet children had showed up at the school with backpacks in tow. These were children from junior classes or those never enrolled in the school.
Luv, a Class IV student seated on a mat on the floor in a classroom, had already begun sharpening his pencils and was ready for school. But teachers had to be patient with him and other children, whose parents were migrant labourers from UP and they were not enrolled in the school.
“These children are not supposed to be here since their parents have not signed the consent forms. But since they were so excited to come back, we didn’t have the heart to send them back right away. Now we will instruct them well that they need not come to school from tomorrow. Some child just tagged along with his older brother, some others are children of migrant workers and parents may have had nowhere to send them when they go to work. We had gone door to door telling parents to send their Class V to VII children to school from Monday,” said Pedhvi.
In the Urdu medium school that, unlike the Marathi medium school, also has Class VIII students, Afshiya Fatima taught 20 Class VIII students who returned to the classroom on Monday. “They did attend online school but sometimes they would be lying down, reclining, distracted but now they are back in the classroom and we can watch them and keep them alert. In the online classroom if they made some excuse to leave the class, we would just have to take their word for it but that won’t happen now. The joy of teaching is, of course, in a classroom,” said Fatima.
In the Marathi medium school, the boys on the first floor read their lessons aloud to their teachers, the girls on the ground floor sang, “We shall overcome…” and in the Urdu classrooms, class resumed with brushing up the language of instruction. Teachers were confident that attendance will gradually improve. After the many lessons that they had learnt hrough the trying months of the Covid-19 outbreak, they said, there were many more to be taught.
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