In the last week or so, the number of covid-19 cases in Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh has seen a “surge”, as per the data provided by the Union Health Ministry.
The increase in the cases comes only a few days ahead of the scheduled opening of the schools in Kashmir Valley, a worrying scenario given the fact that fresh covid-19 cases remain less than hundred in Jammu and Kashmir. Arrival on the scene of the vaccine has also improved the environment for reopening of the schools.
Even before the covid-19 forced closure of the schools, the educational institutes remained closed for nearly a year on account of the security and communication clampdown following the revocation of the Article 370 on 5 August 2019. While it is a fact that lot of academic time has been lost, the pandemic is reality and surge in the case should be factored in while finally opening the schools. There is no doubt that Standard Operation Procedure has been drafted but its implementation remains to be the key and questions on proper implementation are also worthwhile. An odd-even formula is being also applied for schools. This would entail having only 50% of students on campus on any given day.
On the other hand, there could also be a weekly rotation of students to ensure physical distancing and the appropriate teacher-student ratio.
In this sense, classrooms and pedagogy have to be redefined to deal with the new normal. On the face of it, the odd-even plan sounds good, something to be applied for the resumption of the schooling.
For a long time, students have been stuck at home due to the successive lockdowns and have had to rely on online classes after covid-19 for their learning which has proved all but a poor substitute for professional teaching among the students. In-person interactions between teachers and students, and among students themselves, are vital for comprehension, developing soft skills and inculcating social maturity.
While, as per the available data, children are comparatively much less vulnerable to Covid-19 than adults but factoring only this aspect would be wrong. Rather, any decision on reopening schools should be based on scientific advice. Resuming classes through an odd-even rotation of the students, along with appropriate safety measures such as wearing masks, ensuring hand hygiene and temperature monitoring systems, should be acceptable.
At the same, the new normal shouldn’t mean that one should step out of the houses irrespective of the consequences. It ought to be modifying the lifestyles and cutting down on unnecessary exposure with scientific guidelines.