Almost three weeks after Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha, called for working out a plan to open educational institutions in a “staggered manner,” the State Executive Committee headed by Chief Secretary for the first time in recent past announced to take a “considered view” on the re-opening of the higher educational institutions for on-site learning. The announcement has got a rider attached to it. All heads of higher educational institutions (i-e institutions with students above age of 18) have been asked to assess dose-wise vaccination status of the students and staff of their respective institutions in a fortnight. It also comes amid continued hovering of the covid-19 cases around 130-mark. Compared to May this year, when the numbers even breached 5000-mark a day, the scenario in contemporary times looks for more opening up especially the educational institutions. The schools have remained closed in Jammu and Kashmir, more than in any part of India or globe. While the pandemic forced the closure of educational institutions in mid-March last year when the virus was declared a pandemic around the world, the schools, colleges and universities had reopened after seven-month closure in the wake of the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019.
Even when reopened, attendance at educational institutions remained voluntary as the guidelines by the government of India specify that parents can decide what their wards should do. Most parents gave consent and school resumption seemed uninterrupted until covid-19 reared its head again. Beyond doubt, the long period of learning loss is a major setback in itself, affecting the physical and mental health of many students and depriving them of a year of vital skill development. Also importantly, many States and Union Territories have opted to reopen campuses, mostly for secondary and higher secondary students. Perhaps, the government should also keep an eye on indicators available from countries experimenting with back-to-school decisions, and red flags, in the wake of the Delta variant’s wildfire spread.
The genome sequencing of samples taken from Covid patients revealed that about 80% of infections in Jammu and Kashmir are primarily due to the delta variant of the virus which is highly contagious and can lead to development of severe symptoms in patients. While the government has asked staff of the education department to attend offices for administrative work, there is a need to emulate Maharashtra which has called for setting up committees headed by Collectors and civic officials to decide on reopening, with optional student attendance. It may enable closures only in areas with high incidence of covid-19.