Should Schools Re-open Now?
As the world grapples with the breakdown of the economy and other challenges the Covid 19 situation has thrown up, an another important subject of public interest is the re-opening of schools and educational institutions.
How should the Government proceed?
Children and Pandemic;
Studies have shown that children are less susceptible to severe Covid-19 as compared to adults. But if they do get infected, they can become asymptomatic carriers of the disease. This bodes poorly for any suggestion to reopen schools in India, particularly for worst-hit areas.
When we look at the situation in other countries like the US, Israel and Germany, there was a sharp rise in the Covid positive cases after the schools re-opened.
If schools are to be re-opened, there are three considerations that have to be looked into.
Preventing children from transmitting to their families.
Preventing transmission among children in schools
Protecting the staff in the school premises.
Should India with more than 50 lakh Covid cases and with no sign of slowing down, is really ready to open schools? The move certainly comes with risks.
Anant Bhan, Researcher, Global Health Bio-Ethics and Health Policy has opined, “Reopening of schools should first be attempted in areas with low-infection rates and once the success rate is determined, schools in high-infection areas should be opened.”
However preparation for reopening must start well in advance. It is important to assess the institution’s capacity to maintain the recommended safety precautions such as physical distancing norms, sanitizing and maintain hygiene.
World Health Organisation has provided the following checklist for schools:
Provide water and soaps in all hand washing stations.
Sanitizers in all rooms including toilets.
Disinfection of the whole school premises once a day at least.
Increased air flow and proper ventilation.
Trash to be removed and disposed safely.
Only when there is reasonable confidence that the spread has been contained in a particular area, a gradual, staggered reopening can be considered and only if the Institutions are well-equipped with all the above safety precautions in place. But let’s not forget that there can be second and subsequent waves, with more lock-downs.
Other challenges to be tackled before taking a decision are:
Children and teachers may need to travel by public transport that would increase their exposure to infection. How are the movements of children in school buses going to be regulated?
Asymptomatic children can infect several in the school.
School is a social hub with crowded classrooms, play- ground and eating areas where transmission is very possible.
Will the teachers be able to monitor all the safety precautions at all times? How are they expected to maintain discipline?
How will children respond and adjust to the idea of physical distancing in school?
How will they sit apart or adapt to using washrooms or playgrounds?
We will have to be prepared to face many challenges that will come with reopening of schools. Getting back to school should be a smooth transition for children and teachers. Otherwise it will not only accelerate the spread of the virus but also severely affect our children’s future well-being and learning.
While the Government is still considering the pros and cons of reopening educational institutions, studies show that 62% of the parents are unlikely to send their children to schools if and when they open. Most parents are of the view that schools should not reopen at least till December 31st of this year.
A good idea for now would be for the State and Central Governments work on equipping schools for online education and make the necessary modifications in the syllabus for a holistic approach for child development and meaningful education.