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Back to school: Parents and experts weigh in on creating safe offline learning for children  

While the thought of going back to school and having a physical reunion with friends and teachers is welcome, it becomes the primary responsibility of the school itself to create a safe environment for students, and to alleviate the fear of parents.

Written by Prerna Mittra | New Delhi |
February 23, 2021 9:59:30 am
going back to schools, school routine, children in schools, offline classes, preparing children to go back to schools, schools reopening, learning, parenting, indian express newsIn order to instill a sense of normalcy, schools can introduce "academic rigour in a phased manner". (Representational/Express photo by Partha Paul)

After a long wait, months spent studying at home and missing their friends and teachers, some kids in India have returned to school. Across the country, schools had moved online when the lockdown was announced in March 2020. But the new year has ensured a sense of normalcy and a certain ‘back-to-school’ routine. While the pandemic is still on, and is likely to continue for some more time, some parents have been getting their kids re-accustomed to the routine, while doing everything they can to keep safe and follow all pandemic protocols.

But, just how difficult has this transition been for parents and children?

For Noida-based Rudra Sen, whose 17-year-old son returned to school on February 8 “for practicals only”, the transition has been smooth. She told indianexpress.com that the “school provides a better learning environment than home”. “He is enjoying the fact that classes are happening in school again. He is able to meet his friends and teachers. While he has not shown any reluctance, it was initially tiring for him. He has, however, got used to the routine now.”

The homemaker said she and her husband advised their son to “wear his mask all the time”, “sanitise hands regularly”, “not touch anything unnecessarily”, and to “maintain a distance from friends, and not share anything like food, stationery items, etc.”

Sen advised other parents to educate their children on COVID-19 protocols, too, before sending them off to schools.

Much like her, Hindi-language educator Priya Yadav, too, has a pre-teen who has been going to school from earlier this month. She told this outlet that her child was “exhilarated to meet his pals and teachers in person”.

“Honestly, it did not take much time to convince my child to send him for his offline classes. He has his own stories of the whole day spent at school. The changeover was exemplary. I must say, students are resilient and they teach us to keep moving in difficult times as well,” the Chattarpur resident said.

Yadav said her 12-year-old son was so thrilled, he even managed “to convince his classmates to attend the school”. “He himself had kept the sanitiser and mask in his bag. The only thing that I told him was to maintain some distance, and to refrain from touching objects. Also, I had asked him to have water after every lesson.”

Yadav has suggested that other parents “trust teachers” and also their children. “If you are willing to send your ward to school, please do not hesitate. The schools are taking proper care of the students, following all precautionary measures. I would also like to add that you will definitely see a remarkable change in your child when they start going to school.”

While the thought of going back to school and having a physical reunion with friends and teachers is welcome, it becomes the primary responsibility of the school itself to create a safe environment before calling students back, and to alleviate the fear of parents.

Allan Andersen, the director of Bengaluru-based Chaman Bhartiya School remarked: “The most important aspect is that clear safety guidelines are implemented and these include social distancing and wearing of masks. The entire school area ought to be divided into zones, children be divided into groups and their movement within the school be restricted only to those zones.

“In addition to social distancing and sanitising, cleaning floors and surfaces is a norm which must be strictly adhered to. There should be a high priority for maintaining social distance in buses. If this one aspect is not given high priority the entire objective of strict adherence to safety guidelines will fall apart.”

Fatema Agarkar, an educationist and the founder of ACE, is of the opinion that there “must be regular communication between home and school”. “And should a case be identified, a protocol for alerting all those in contact, and testing immediately; an isolation room be kept ready as the identified party gets medical attention. Sanitation posts at the exit will be critical,” she told indianexpress.com.

The role of teachers

Andersen opined that in order to instill a sense of normalcy, schools can introduce “academic rigour in a phased manner. Initially, children should be made to feel at home.”

Agarkar suggested that teachers can use humour, music, drama, and sports to initiate back-to-school life, along with sharing stories of lockdown in the quality circles. “Invest heavily in bonding activities initially — more project-based work, where students can work independently and still collaboratively maintain social-distancing. Plenty of breakout sessions to discuss what they are feeling and thinking, and addressing their concerns,” she advised, while adding that educators “cannot be limited in our thoughts about ‘finishing’ syllabus and compromise the quality of delivery. Children are returning to a world that is now alien to them, so educators will have to be mindful.”

Dealing with parental anxiety and mental and emotional health

While Sen and Yadav are pretty confident about their children doing comfortably in school, there are many parents around the country, who are apprehensive about their children resuming the routine, especially since the pandemic is still very much on.

Explaining this fear, mental and emotional well-being coach, and founder of ‘Let Us Talk’ Kanchan Rai, said it has been observed the back-to-school anxiety for parents boils down to two main points: deciding whether it is safe to send a child to a physical classroom setting, followed by what to do with the uncomfortable feeling that could ascend after you have taken the decision.

“I would emphasise on the need for parents to follow the acceptance and commitment therapy. This is a behavioural therapy that teaches people to accept their challenging thoughts and feelings as opposed to struggling against them. It also helps them to prioritise taking actions that are in line with their values,” she told indianexpress.com.

While the switch from digital to traditional classroom learning is not going to be easy for children either, parents need to understand that the goal is “not to safeguard that your child will never be exposed to a virus particle, since that is practically impossible. The goal is to chart out a realistic plan that will holistically keep your child as safe as possible,” she commented.

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