TODAY -

The thirst for reopening schools

SK Singh *



Across the country educational institutes had been closed since mid-March when the CORONA virus had its grip on mankind. The loss, rather irreparable, more specifically among the student circles is felt increasingly over the months.

After Unlock 4 when partial relaxations were put in position since September, there has been a clamor for reopening educational institutions throughout the length and breadth of the country. Manipur too toyed with the possible scope for reopening schools to the extent that wide-scale discussions in the print media, at the level of CSOs and even at the level of the government took place.

Sensing the wave of apprehension among the mass in the context of the increasing trend of new cases, the Education Minister, however, summed up by categorically declaring that there was no decision to reopen schools as of now. The government perhaps was on the right tract.

It’s true that students have faced irreparable losses in the academic pursuit over the months. The on-line classes, the e-learning sessions, however comprehensive, cannot meet the standard and coverage as in normal classes. For one, many of students in higher classes cannot afford the minimum facilities for smart phones or televisions at home.

Where these are managed even by the parents, limitations exist in far off places, in hill areas where the network coverage is erratic. Even where these facilities are in position, because of inability to possess a standard TV had cost lives of students in poor families. Meritorious but poor students whose parents couldn’t afford a standard TV at home have suffered, in one case at least, a bright student in Telengana committed suicide.

Lockdown as it is leaves everybody confined at home. I am no exception. More for me as because we belong to the vulnerable age-group because of our advanced age. We thus hunt for some vocation, some space and some alternative, to remain occupied to manage the long daytime hours. A little bit of gardening cannot keep occupied. I took upon the task of tutoring the boy, even without any urge from the parents, let alone from the boy, my own grandson.

During the five months or so of the lockdown, there is severe shortfall in learning especially in secondary classes. My grandson happens to be in class IX in a moderately good school in Churachandpur. I could see lessons mailed to the boy, home works to be completed in English, Social Science etc.

But I could not see any such assignments or lessons passed in subjects like Science and Mathematics. Standard IX mathematics and science are tough, tougher than in our time. The students would for sure suffer, in higher classes because of the loss of around 6 months (could be more too).

I took upon the task of tutoring him regularly in areas like; in physics, the concept of motion, the standard formulae of motion, velocity, acceleration etc. The standard practices of geometry, algebra like factorization, solving equations, drawing graphs of equations and finding the value of the variable etc. were too covered.

In science, the areas of chemistry, biology I couldn’t help except for assigning works to copy important sections regularly so that he could grasp at least some areas. There were of no inconvenience. I could cover trigonometry, statistics, probability too though these were just only the rudimentary portions.

I do not claim that I could fill in the gap even in mathematics, the need of the school, the subject teachers who are masters themselves. The students need them desperately.

The point I am trying to hit is that in average level schools, there was no such video-classes, online teaching or otherwise in these subjects. For top level schools, yes, the faculty must be regularly in touch with the students. I can understand that for those students without somebody in the family to coach at home in these subjects, the damage to the student would be tremendous.

There is therefore urgent need for the students to be in schools to get such topics explained by their teachers. There may be many students whose parents or guardians are not competent to teach the subjects in higher classes like standard IX, X and above. These boys and girls would naturally suffer and often considerably.

Such losses are irreparable, syllabus is huge and they have to proceed with limited portions because of the loss of around half a year. Ultimately therefore there is an indispensable need for select classes to open to save the damage from further worsening.

The question then boils down to how a modality is framed for the students to attend classes under the prevailing circumstances when the Covid pandemic has spread its tentacles among the locals, the communities.

In Manipur, the spread of the virus is reaching across the Leikais; new localities are coming up in their hundreds every day. The daily surge in new infection, without travel history reached the vicinity of 140 a few days earlier. The number has tapered on Monday, 14 September; 96 new cases of which78 are from among the general population, the others from Central Armed Police Force.

Cases of the virus infecting security escorts of CM, SP (TBL) and DC (KCG) are taking the rounds. Some of these live in their homes implying possible contact with their families. The risk of further spike looms large. Imphal West where most schools exist is for now the hardest hit with record new cases almost daily and maximum case load.

Consequent upon the phase-wise unlocking of activities, in particular Unlock 4, the GOI, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had issued on 8th September, 2020, SOP for ‘partial reopening’ of schools for students of class 9th to 12th classes, on a ‘voluntary basis’. This consideration is indicated as permitting such classes from 21 September.

Mind however the rider imposed on this GOI decision that, such reopening is ‘voluntary’, implying that any consequence resulting to contact of the virus among such students attending such classes would be entirely the responsibility of the school and the guardians and not for GOI or State governments.

As an added precaution not to entangle the GOI or the State Government, on the event of unfortunate incident of contacting the pandemic in such schools, the onus, the task of ensuring zero-contact of the virus lies with the schools and the guardians only. No school or guardian would be too happy to have classes however religiously the SOP is followed.

Even the SOP insists on a written consent of the parents to send their wards to such classes. Would under such a milieu, where the blame would be shouldered by the schools plus the parents, any school venture to open classes however precautious they are in the process.

It is no wonder that top schools in Delhi and around all have declined to open schools even partially. Manipur too should think twice before reopening classes.


* SK Singh wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 17 2020.



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