Physical mode of education

In a heartening move to say the least, the government on Wednesday informed the J & K and Ladakh high court that it was proposing to shift from online to physical mode of education.  There has been a long period of learning loss for the students of Jammu and Kashmir as compared to their counterparts in other parts of India or elsewhere. It has been a major setback in itself, affecting the physical and mental health of most students besides depriving them of vital skill development.

The covid-19 pandemic shuttered schools and forced students, who could, to study online at home. Some who could not afford smartphones missed it altogether even as the government resorted to radio or television programmes.

Nevertheless the school education department did well to keep the students engaged through virtual classes or at times, some teachers held classes under the open sky for the benefit of the students. However, as experts keep on repeating, it can never be a substitution for formal and structured schooling where students learn through teacher-student interactions.

Among the major concerns surrounding reopening of schools is possible transmission of the virus on campuses, with implications for vulnerable individuals in the students’ home. Here, the advocacy of the European Technical Advisory Group on schooling during Covid-19 — smaller class sizes, wider spaces between desks and staggered breaks at school — is worth considering.

In a related issue, the government has already issued guidelines, among others mandating calling for maintaining social distancing for students of 10th and 12th class for taking examinations in Jammu and Kashmir.

All the concerned institutions have been asked to ensure that all the students coming to the examination venue shall carry consent for each examination duly signed by their parents/legal guardians.

The European Technical Advisory Group has underscores the importance of evolving a follow-up protocol, when a cluster of cases leads to school-wide testing. A number of public health experts contend that children aged 6 to 14 have the lowest risk of moderate or severe Covid-19 infection.

While the government has decided to propose shifting to usual classroom schooling, the government must continue to watch and take note of community transmission besides ensuring all measures are taken by the concerned like physical distancing and good ventilation. Vaccination of teachers and school staff and eligible students must be also ensured.

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