Children at a Delhi school just before lockdown was imposed after the Covid-19 outbreak  in March

Photo courtesy www.theprint.in

How will schools be in a post lockdown India?

What will school be like post-Lockdown? Should your children play with other children in a park or the school ground? What will happen to pre-schools? Will homeschooling be the new normal? A classroom will never be a full-house, children may visit school on different dates, miss their friends in person as they will be allowed to come based on odd-even roll numbers even after a Covid-19 vaccine is discovered. Imagine school with no sports, no PTs, no assemblies, no extracurricular activities, no cheering for teams/houses, no one-act play, debate or dance competitions.

 

Can an online class compensate for loss of social interaction and peer learning, and how will it affect child psychology? What happens to children who lack facilities for online learning or do not have educated parents who cannot assist in learning? With less social interaction, will children be drawn more towards deathly games like Blue Whale? Also on the wider policy front how will schools fit into the infection curve? These are some tough times and parents never anticipated this in their lifetime for their children.

 

The Central Government’s Ministry of Human Resources in India is formulating guidelines for schools, management, and even launching satellite channels for higher sections. In recent news article in www.theprint.in  National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) Director Hrushikesh Senapathy was quoted, “MHRD has tasked NCERT with formulating guidelines for schools, which are being worked on. This will include directions for various stakeholders including school management, teachers, parents and students.”

 

Senapthy added that the guidelines “will also spell out what the students who stay back at home would do. One option is for schools to continue their online teaching and giving assignments and activities”. But another important issue worth pointing out is whether school drop-out rates will increase with prolonged closures. Frankly, we had not imagined this in our wildest of dreams.

 

 

Photo courtesy www.theindianexpress.com

Pictures from Wuhan, the Chinese city which first reported the Covid19 outbreak, show students wearing face masks and desks maintaining a safe distance apart from each other in classrooms with special transparent plexiglass screens on each desk. Imagine that. Only senior students are allowed to attend school in this city. Only a restricted number of pupils are allowed into class rooms to ensure social distancing. Students and staff are tested at school gates with thermal scanners placed at the entrance.

 

In Norway, there are strict rules for nurseries, where toys which are non-washable are banned and only a small corner is assigned to each group of children. Further down authorities there have even recommended a floor area of 6sq metres per child for nurseries, 2 metres between tables, and the government expects the school staff to supervise regular handwashing and disinfect surfaces such as taps, toilet flushes, tables, and door handles at least twice a day.

 

In India parents’ talk of challenging scenarios like children using common washrooms, explaining younger children why sitting close or mingling should be avoided and maintaining distance is important in both classrooms and on the playfield and that trading lunches during recess will not be possible for some time. Children have to be repeatedly reminded of washing their hands—but will there be a special arrangement for that in school? They will have to be made conscious to not pick their nose and communicate when they don’t feel well.

 

If a person at home falls sick with fever—or will children with an underlying health condition--children be allowed to attend school, probably you may not want to send your children to school.  What will happen to overcrowded school vans, or auto-rickshaws drop or their fees? or say will day care centres be relevant for working parents. Will working parents get special allotted time from offices to get their children from school in that case, apart from their lunch breaks? Will the concept of a joint family become more relevant in that case? A lot of relearning, restructuring will be required.

 

In case of teachers, we have teachers with underlying condition of asthama, diabetes, blood pressure, in that case will they be attending school or say if they were pregnant! Can teachers teach with basic PPE kits? In some progressive schools, online classes on Zoom are worth watching. Teachers, mute-unmute children, while they speak. The cacophony was missing.

 

 

Children cheering for their friends outside a school in Malaparamba in Kozhikode in Kerala

Photo courtesy www.newindianexpress.com

In the end we will have to formulate a system where parents, government and schools come together to pool in their resources and ideas so that children don’t miss out the education we had in our schools. Social interactions, play and extra-curricular are very important for survival of social beings. Its Covid19 today, may be there may be some other pandemic at some other time. We can’t just lock down. Schools are foundation of our social system and we should ensure that we preserve its form for our generations to come.

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