Schools scramble to put Covid-19 protocols in place
With the Delhi government giving the green signal to reopen schools for classes 9 to 12 from September 1 and the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) allowing classes 6 to 8 to return to school a week later on September 8, public and private educational institutions in the capital now face the uphill task of ensuring physical distancing on their premises, dividing teaching resources between in-person and online classes, and easing students back into the school mode.
Several private and public schools that Hindustan Times spoke to on Friday said they would first work on obtaining parental consent for students of classes 9 and 11 — they have already obtained this for board students (classes 10 and 12) earlier this month, when DDMA allowed those students to return to school.
Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said schools must allow students who choose to stay home the option of online classes, several school principals said allowing classes in a blended mode may pose a challenge and they are awaiting orders from the directorate of education in this regard.
Anuradha Joshi, principal of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, said, “When we resumed in-person classes in January and February, we recorded 99% attendance. So, we did not have to work out modalities for simultaneous online classes. Hybrid learning may prove difficult for all schools because we will need studio infrastructure (for online classes). We are awaiting the guidelines from the education department.”
Tania Joshi, principal, The Indian School, said, “Hybrid learning is going to be difficult because schools will need internet facilities and related infrastructure. But we will have to have hybrid classes because one lesson cannot be taught multiple times to different batches as the whole exercise would delay the syllabus. We could opt for live streaming, which will be challenging as we haven’t done that before.”
Between January and February, Delhi schools allowed students of classes 9 to 12 to return for in-person classes. Several school authorities said their experiences from back then would enable them to devise a plan for now.
“We have four gates, and each gate was used for the entry and exit of a batch of 30 students on any given day, thereby ensuring physical distancing. We had marked which batch would use the gate, staircase and room. We had requested parents to collect children immediately once school is over. The same process is likely to be applied this time as well,” said Joshi.
Meenu Goswami, principal of Bal Bharati School in Pitampura, said they are also planning to get back students of classes 6 to 8. “We will send a Google form to parents for consent. Even if 25% students of classes 6 to 8 are allowed to come, we will resume in-person classes for them because parent and student confidence can only be boosted once we take that first step. As far as classes 9 to 12 are concerned, we plan to resume in-person classes from September 6 so that we have time to plan the logistics.”
The school is also planning to include sports and other co-curricular activities while maintaining physical distancing. “We are likely to have classes from 8am to 1pm daily and hope to see about 50% student attendance in the first week. Engaging students in academic activities for five straight hours might be difficult at first so we may gradually start sports activities which we can plan with social distancing. Children need opportunities for outdoor activities. We will ensure that there is enough staff to enforce all Covid-19 protocols,” Goswami said.
Schools will also be ensuring that the staff are vaccinated. School authorities said they will be focusing on addressing the emotional health of students as well. A senior official of the education department said the government schoolteachers have been briefed to have orientation sessions where “children can vent or share their feelings about the pandemic”.
Ashok Pandey, director of Ahlcon Group of Schools, said, “While safety measures are a must, the focus of teachers will be on rebuilding a relationship with children, bridging the gaps and taking care of the socio emotional needs of children. These students will be coming to school after a long time and a lot has happened in the meantime, so we have to work on how to make school a happy and joyful place for children.”
Several private school associations also endorsed the government’s decision to reopen schools. Bharat Arora, general secretary of Action Committee of Unaided Private Schools, said, “We wholeheartedly welcome this decision… We are sure all stakeholders are equally concerned about the health (of children), but together, while ensuring all safety norms, we can get back to education.”
National Progressive Schools Conference, an alliance of 122 schools, said staggered classes and smaller groups will allow teachers to devote more attention to each child. Chairperson Malini Narayanan said, “Once classes begin, we will conduct tests to assess learning levels of students who will be returning to schools after a long gap.”
Coaching centres in the national capital will also be reopening from September 1, the government said.
Aakash Chaudhry, managing director, Aakash Educational Services Limited, said, “We would like to assure the parents that as we are reopening our premises with all precautionary measures in place. We have made it mandatory for those who wish to attend the classroom coaching to have the written consent of their parents." The institute will also facilitate contactless attendance across branches, proper crowd management in parking lots, in corridors and in lifts.
“In the first phase, we will only allow class 11 and 12 students after acquiring parental consent. Online classes will continue and offline classes will work on 40-50% capacity. Our staff is vaccinated and all sanitation measures will be implemented. We are likely to reopen by September 7-8,” said Saurabh Kumar, national director, academics, Vidyamandir.