‘Back at last’: After months online, cheer, relief in classroom reunion
In March last year, Class 10 student Bhawna, a resident of east Delhi’s Trilokpuri, was delighted to learn that schools in the national capital would remain closed for an indefinite period in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ten months later, on Monday, she was elated to return to school.
“When the lockdown was announced in March, we were happy that schools would be closed for a long time. But eventually, we got bored and didn’t even feel like watching cartoons…now that schools have reopened after lockdown, I woke up excited this morning and came to school,” Bhawna wrote in her essay on lockdown experiences.
The teenager, who studies at Janki Devi Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, in Mayur Vihar Phase 1, was asked to share her experiences as a part of the two-day “orientation and connectivity programme” at her school to ease students into the “new normal”.
Adorned with welcome posters, balloons and flowers, schools wore a festive look as students trickled in to classrooms after a gap of 10 months. The day’s activities included practical classes, discussions and strategies on the upcoming board examination, as well as an orientation session to acquaint students with Covid appropriate behaviour.
Class 12 student Rajendra, who studies at a government school in Shalimar Bagh, said, “During lunch break or physical education classes, we used to engage in physical activities or play with our classmates. It is sad that we won’t be able to do all that in the final year of our school life. But we are happy to be back. The classes will help us prepare for board examinations and reduce our stress.”
While students were excited to return to school, despite having to wear masks and keep a distance from each other, the “no contact policy” left many dispirited. Riya Chauhan, a class 12 science student from Modern Public School in Shalimar Bagh, said it was unsettling for her to encounter “emptier classrooms and corridors” as there were fewer students in school.
“Coming back to school has been a different experience; earlier we could walk from one table to another in labs when we needed to discuss something, but that is no longer allowed. Since we were not allowed to gather in groups, I had the quietest lunch break in my entire life,” said the teenager, who resides in Azadpur.
She said it was challenging to follow the lectures due to masks. “It was uncomfortable to wear a mask and communicate. We had to ask teachers to repeat what they were saying to be able to follow the lectures. We will adapt to the new normal in a few days though,” Chauhan said.
While schools strictly enforced physical distancing norms, the scenes outside the premises were a cause for concern. Across the capital, students could be seen mingling freely with one another, either before reaching the school or after leaving it.
Surya Kant Prasad, deputy director of education of Zone 2 (east), said he noted the same during his visit to several schools on Monday. “Most of our children are aware of the importance of maintaining social distancing and they are taking all precautions. For the rest, we will ask teachers to counsel students in the coming days so that they take needed steps for their own safety and the well-being of others,” he said.
Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia visited Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Chirag Enclave and Delhi Public School in Mathura Road to assess schools’ readiness. “Since CBSE has announced the dates for board exams, to be held in May, it would’ve been unfair to students to let them directly take the examinations, sans any counselling or pre-board classes,” he said.
Principals across several Delhi government schools said teachers and staff were happy to see the children back and devised multiple protocols to facilitate their safety.
Seema Singh Rathi, head of school at east Delhi’s Janki Devi SKV, said, “Our focus today was on discussing what students did at home during the lockdown so that we re-establish the student connect with teachers.”
Sarita Batra, principal of Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya in Shalimar Bagh, said she visited each class to discuss the guidelines as a large gathering is not permitted. “We had conducted meetings with parents to assure them of the safety protocols. We started with lessons today as teachers need time to conduct practicals,” she said.
Parents still concerned
While most government schools in the capital reopened Monday, private schools will be reopening gradually. Parents have raised concerns citing lack of school buses, multiple entrance examinations in February, and the spread of Covid-19, even though a vaccine is at hand.
Anita Madan, a resident of Janakpuri and parent of a class 12 student of St Thomas’ School in Dwarka, said, “My son, like other science students, has entrance exams in February. School has said that offline pre-boards will be held this month itself. What if our child gets infected and loses the opportunity to appear for the entrance exams?”
Pankaj Gupta, parent of a class 10 student of Maharaja Agrasen School, said, “I won’t send my daughter to school because the Covid-19 threat still exists. Children have a tendency to mingle or not wear masks properly. Parents cannot be completely sure that schools will monitor such things the way we do. Reopening schools for students cannot be done on an experimental basis.”
Requesting anonymity, a parent of a class 10 student of Amity International School in Pushp Vihar said, “The school has announced that students have to appear for offline pre-boards this week itself. This has caused immense stress to several children as they need time to adapt to going to school again.
Reacting to these concerns, a school spokesperson told Hindustan Times on Monday, “Once children get back to school, only then can a call be taken on the pre-board examinations. Any call on offline examination will be taken after assessing the parents’ concern about sending their children to school.”
Aprajita Gautam, president of Delhi Parents’ Association, said, “As per our analysis, attendance at most schools on Monday was less than 50%. That shows that parents are still concerned about Covid. The non-availability of school buses has added to their woes. While private schools are still working on safety protocols, we feel that government schools need to do more in implementing these guidelines as children of these schools need more in-person assistance.”
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- This evening he is stationed beside a zebra crossing in Connaught Place, standing amid a continuous motion of shoppers going about in all directions.