Should schools be kept closed or opened now? There is perhaps no area of life and public policy that more clearly illustrates the double-edged nature of decision-making during the pandemic than education.
The businesses also face huge difficulties but are surmountable for varied reasons including if the government provides sufficient compensation. However, the issue for schools is that there is simply no way to make up to children for almost two years of lost learning, and time away from teachers and peers.
Those who call for opening schools cannot be put at fault as also those who want schools to remain shut for now given the harm that would be caused by sending children to crowded classrooms.
One thing that is clear: Everyone wants young people to be educated and those extremely concerned by the prospect of educational inequalities widening as a result of the pandemic is not out of place.
One cannot also doubt those vouching for reopening will prevent another washout year for students after last year’s curbs but the government post effective abrogation of Article 370.
As per the new COVID19 directions and guidelines, all the schools, colleges and higher education institutions including anganwadi centers would continue to remain closed till December 31 except training institutions run by the central and J&K government.
The existing regulations allow research scholars and students who have to take up practical work in science and technical streams to continue even as colleges remain understandably cautious and want to adopt a staggered approach to reopening.
From October onwards, there have been many activities allowed in the various public sphere outside containment zones, with shops and restaurants open, and buses plying on a normal course. These activities have to a large extent restored the sinews of the economy even as they come with the risk of exposing more people to the coronavirus. The winter, at the expense of repetition, could prove perilous. The citizens cannot be lax about safe behavior including universal use of face coverings, personal hygiene and distancing norms. Breach of it could pose an unprecedented risk since children who are believed to be less affected by the infection could bring the virus home to vulnerable individuals, a phenomenon experienced after reopening schools in some countries across the globe. A need remains to minimize negative impacts during present pre-vaccine phase by resolute adherence to safety protocols, and additional vigilance on the part of health authorities in all spheres. Also, online learning should be made more proactive.