No klaxon lifting a curfew could be as loud and clear as the school assembly bell, and in institutions across the world, it is ringing out. Millions of students are returning to school in China, the UK, Israel and France, sending a strong signal that nations must learn to live with the COVID-19 pandemic, while they wait for a vaccine. Governments have been wary of being accused of playing with the lives of children, their most vulnerable wards, but appraisals of the economic and social costs of the pandemic suggest that public health is not the only concern.
Reopening would help sew up the digital rift which has appeared in education. Despite schools’ attempts at outreach and sacrifices made by families, the poor have been deprived, even in cities like New York. It also ends anxieties about a zero academic year, which would limit the prospects and incomes of school-goers cumulatively, perhaps throughout their careers. Welfare states see reopening schools as a component of economic recovery, freeing up parents to rejoin the workforce.
In India, perhaps a large number of schools in rural areas could have reopened safely long ago. In a special series ‘Lockdown Lessons’, The Indian Express has reported extensively on teachers who are holding socially distanced classes outdoors, in areas where internet access is unreliable or unaffordable. Residential schools, which do not see daily traffic of students and teachers, might even be safe havens from the pandemic. But teachers do not have the freedom to decide on reopening, based on their local realities. They must wait for governments to take a decision ? a political decision, conditioned by the fear of appearing to be irresponsible towards children. And yet, this decision cannot be deferred from month to month, because the future of both children and their families hangs in the balance.
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