Would India be able to go back to School Now? Know what parents think...

Life during the pandemic has been difficult for parents and children alike. Effects of COVID-19 caused an enormous impact at societal, economic, and educational levels. Likewise, the structure and size of families’ economic, social, and cultural capital produced significant differences in the learning opportunities for children from varied backgrounds. Middle-class families were able to maintain higher standards of education quality in a critical context, while children from socially disadvantaged families had fewer learning opportunities.

As a result of nationwide lockdowns, hundreds of million students across the world, are studying at home via online classes. 105 of the 134 countries that have closed schools (78 percent) have decided on a date to reopen schools. 59 of those 105 countries have already reopened schools or plan to open them shortly.

The re-opening of schools and revival of offline academics will reflect much-awaited normalcy. The reopening of schools in different countries is not generally an isolated education-related decision. Rather it is a part of several actions related to opening back the country, such as reopening factories, public transport, and commercial business. Slowly and steadily, there has been a surge in the number of children returning to the classrooms.

It is crucial that schools too plan and look at what additional measures they can put in place to help ensure safety for students, teachers, and other staff members when they return. Communication of such measure will make parents confident about sending their children back to school. This is especially critical in light of many Indian states showing a resurgence of active COVID cases, and multiple students in Telangana, Gujarat, Haryana, and Maharashtra schools and a college testing positive.

Precautions at Administrative Level:

Going back to school, in all probabilities, is likely to be somewhat different from what we were used to pre-pandemic. It is possible that schools may function in a staggered manner-reopen for a period and then close briefly if caseloads rise. The authorities will require flexibility and readiness to adapt to help keep every child safe. Reopening of schools should first be attempted in areas with low infection rates and once the success rate is determined, schools in high-infection cities like Mumbai and Delhi should be opened.

Precautions at School Level:

School reopening should be consistent with the overall COVID-19 health response to help protect students, staff, teachers, and their families. Some of the practical measures that schools can take include:
•To schedule different times for the start and close of the school day
•Dividing mealtimes
•Holding school in shifts, to reduce class-size

School administrators should look at opportunities to improve hygiene measures, including handwashing, respiratory etiquette (i.e. coughing and sneezing into the elbow), physical distancing measures, cleaning procedures for facilities, and safe food preparation practices. Administrative staff and teachers should also be trained on physical distancing and school hygiene practices.

The system and schools will do well to incorporate learnings from case studies from many countries where schools reopened. For example, in the US 97,000 children came down with Covid-19 within 2 weeks of school reopening; and also in Berlin, Germany, where 41 schools reported children or teachers getting infected during their first week of attending school.

All these issues are causing concerns amongst Indian parents. Most parents are of the view that India should not even consider reopening schools in regular mode and instead the focus of Central and State Governments should be on equipping all schools for online education. Additionally, public television or radio-based classes should be encouraged in alliance with industry through various CSR programs for students not accessible through online education.

Parental Key Concerns:

Parents are hesitant to send their children to school, they believe that it is more important to consider their child’s life than sending them to school. Parents also think that with so many children present, it is doubtful that teachers will be able to maintain a strict eye on all students. Children being children will invariably end up getting together and sharing lunches. Similarly, the risk for teachers and consequent risk to children would also be much higher since traveling by metro and cabs would increase their exposure to infection.

With the completion of the 10th and 12th board exams and easing of this milestone-based urgency, parents are again in a dilemma if they should send their children to schools in the new academic year. Below are some measures which parents feel will need to be strictly implemented for children to go back to schools.
-Monitoring of children’s health and sending them home from school if they
exhibit even the slightest signs of any infection
-Public messaging of good hygiene practices for children in a school
environment; this will be much more intensive than the generic pandemic
hygiene messaging
-Enforcing availability of safe drinking water and clean toilets at schools
-Enforcing that waste is safely collected, stored, and disposed of

Continuation of Options and Coping Mechanism:

As schools had completely shut during the pandemic, a lot of parents and teachers also decided not to put any more academic pressures on students and adapted creative measures that could also help build a child’s skill set. Teachers and parents adopted new technologies to educate children. Various new ideas were introduced for children to keep them engaged during the lockdown. More visual learning techniques were introduced. Activities like Zumba, art, yoga, etc. were introduced as curriculum activities to keep children away from lethargy and despair.

The school timings were shortened and deviating from a predicted hardcore online learning, a method of thinking and creating was emphasized. The students were encouraged to story-write, make viva and presentations. Many parents have seen the positive impact of these practices even when children are suffering from a lack of social interaction. Parents want to know the future of these best practices when schools reopen.

In conclusion, one can safely say that Indian parents are not in a hurry to send their children back to offline classes. As health and life are paramount, the parents and academic community, together, have taken the matter into their hands and are excelling in keeping students productively engaged.