Covid, now pollution: Shutting schools taking a toll on learning

By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Nov 20, 2021 01:02 AM IST

Schools with infra to mitigate air pollution impact should be allowed to hold classes, say experts.

With the Commission on Air Quality Management (CAQM) announcing the closure of educational institutions for in-person classes until further notice in Delhi, uncertainty has once again clouded learning in schools, many of which reopened for physical classes only two weeks ago.

School children walk amid smog in New Delhi.(PTI | Representational image)
School children walk amid smog in New Delhi.(PTI | Representational image)

Several principals said that there is a lot of uncertainty and despondency among students due to the abrupt closure of schools, and advocated a more nuanced approach in response to air pollution.

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Manika Sharma, director, The Shri Ram Schools in Delhi-NCR, said that classes should be allowed in schools that were equipped with adequate infrastructure for countering pollution.

“Schools like ours that already have air purifiers installed should be exempted from closure. We are all already masked up (to protect against Covid-19). That takes care of pollution as well. Now, we are doing more harm by compelling children to stay at home. This is something that should be looked into by the government,” said Sharma.

School administrators and educators pointed to the toll the continuing closure of schools takes on students -- not just in terms of learning outcomes, but also social and psychological development.

Sudha Acharya, the chairperson of the National Progressive Schools’ Conference, which has over 120 private Delhi schools as its members, said that it is crucial to come up with a workaround to tackle pollution so that children’s learning is not interrupted. Acharya said that the abrupt closure of schools has affected the mental health of children yearning to be back in classrooms.

Schools in the Capital were closed for physical classes on account of Covid-19 last March and allowed to reopen in a limited way for students of higher grades early this year. They finally reopened for all classes on November 1 only to be shut again on November 13.

“The blanket closure of schools is not the solution to the pollution problem. The government might not be able to provide exemptions to some schools due to logistical reasons but some sustainable solution that doesn’t disrupt learning is needed. Most people are going out and about. They are not locked up inside their houses due to pollution. Constant closure of schools both because of Covid and pollution gives the impression that they are the most unsafe places, which is not true,” said Acharya, principal of ITL Public School, Dwarka.

She said that the unpredictability and uncertainty from school closure has adversely impacted the learning environment. And the suspension of in-person classes for the past two years had also led to behavioural issues among children, she added.

Other schools that have taken measures to tackle pollution within the campus said that doctors and experts could suggest measures for schools to function amid the prevailing situation.

Richa Sharma Agnihotri, principal, Sanskriti School, said that the school has taken multiple measures over the years to ensure that learning is not disrupted on account of pollution. The school had created the area outside the premises into a no-car zone for the past many years. All classrooms are equipped with air purifiers and purifying plants have been placed across the school campus.

“There is a constant conversation around pollution and we encourage children and their parents to avoid cars and walk,” said Agnihotri.

She said that while the suspension of in-person classes was disappointing, one could not take the concerns surrounding pollution lightly.

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