NEWS With improvement in Covid condition, there is a need to open schools in India.
- With improvement in Covid situation, the economy is open. Malls, bars, restaurants, and some offices are open, but schools have been closed for 16 months and counting citing safety of the schools as reasons.
- There have been sporadic openings for the higher grade students, and the Board examinations, the focus on school education is missing.
- Although focus on higher education is justified as it determines the college, career and chance for a good life for many, neglect of the school needs to be avoided.
IMPACT OF CLOSED SCHOOL
- School education teaches children to share, wait for their turn, negotiate, and compromise. Close schools deprive children of their social contact and hence deprive them of essential learning and development.
- For children from economically weak backgrounds, schools are a key source of nutrition and safe spaces from the chaos of their homes. For those whose parents can’t afford home tutors, denial of education results in learning losses and, ultimately, denial of a chance to earn a livelihood.
- For parents, school closures have added to childcare and teaching duties.
EXPERT OPINION ON OPENING OF SCHOOL
- Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) believes that it will be wise to open primary schools first and then secondary schools as children are at low risk of developing severe COVID-19 compared to adults.. But before that we have to ensure that all support staff whether it be school bus drivers, teachers and other staff in the school need to be vaccinated
- Experts like Dr. Randeep Guleria, AIIMS Director says that in less than 18 years of age group, it was found that more than 50 percent of children and in some areas, more than 80 per cent of children from both urban and rural areas had antibodies.
- This means they were already infected and developed antibodies. Hence there is a need to start schools where the community level of infection is low. A one-size-fits-all approach across India will not work.
- Thus, in the states like Kerala or Maharashtra, where COVID-19 cases could be surging again, students should stay home, while their counterparts in other States where positivity rates are lower, can start going to school.
MEASURES THAT NEED TO BE TAKEN
- Schools can’t be opened overnight. A large amount of preparation is required and this can be done by collecting input from recommendations given by various committees including World Bank, SRCC Children’s Hospital, Mumbai and the Lancet COVID-19 Commission India Task Force.
- As immediate measures, governments should call for lists of school staff and procure full vaccination for them. There is also a need to undertake public campaigns to make school staff and parents aware of the low risk of transmission in schools and low severity in children.
- Scientists should confirm if the gap between doses can be made shorter akin to health-care workers. Also there is need to work on aspects like
- issuing guidance for staggered re-opening of primary schools.
- upgrade school infrastructure to facilitate a hybrid system of learning where parents who do not wish to send their children to school have the choice to continue with online learning.
- train school teachers in hybrid learning.
- formulate and issue guidance on COVID-19 protocols to be adopted by schools with detail plan like
- distancing to the extent possible
- outdoor classes weather-permitting
- masking, hand hygiene, and proper ventilation
- finalise logistics such as packed meals and transport.
- ensure availability of medical consultation so that staff and parents need not scramble for assistance.
- It is high time that as parents we recognise the costs of isolation and online learning for our young children. We cannot wait for children to get vaccinated because this may take years.
- It is true that we cannot expect schools to provide a 100% guarantee that our children will be safe. We must build mutual trust among governments, schools, and citizens.
- Each of us must implement and adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols recommended by scientists.
- Each of us must be vigilant and responsible, ensure all adults in our households are fully vaccinated and ensure children stay home if sick or exposed.
- We cannot let the status quo continue any longer. We need to stop asking whether schools are safe and start acknowledging that in-person school is essential. We need to come together to fix that problem and give our young children their childhood back.