Mumbai schools prepare for reopening after relaxation of curbs

From mask disposal bins to online-offline mode of classes: school prep for reopening, but say they’ll take the cue from parents
A teacher conducts online studies at People's Education Society School and College in June. (HT PHOTO)
A teacher conducts online studies at People's Education Society School and College in June. (HT PHOTO)
Updated on Aug 11, 2021 12:51 AM IST
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ByShreya Bhandary and Ankita Menon, Mumbai

With a week to go for city schools to reopen for middle and senior students, school managements are prepping campuses even as parents’ associations seem unwilling to send their children back to school in the midst of a pandemic.

The state on Tuesday issued a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which stipulated that schools are not allowed to seat more than 20 students in a classroom, one student per bench, with at least six feet distance between benches, among other things. The state empowered civic bodies to take a decision on the reopening of physical classes based on the existing Covid-19 pandemic situation in their city. State education minister Varsha Gaikwad last week announced that physical classes for Standard 8 to 12 in cities and Standard 5 to 8 in rural areas will resume on August 17.

Across Mumbai and Thane, schools are putting protocols in place to ensure that if students return, proper Covid-19 behaviour is adhered to. While some schools are keen on distributing the students across classrooms and webcast a class, others want to stagger attendance and use a hybrid model of teaching. Others have begun to sanitise the campus and install mask disposal bins as well as temperature checks at entry points. Still others are mulling over assigning one desk to each child for the rest of the semester.

“In international boards, classes 10, 11 and 12 are board exams and already these students have suffered because of missing school and practical classes for one academic year. Our schools have not more than 25-30 students per class plus we have the infrastructure to ensure students follow social distancing protocols while in school,” said Kavita Aggarwal, chairperson of Mumbai International Schools’ Association (MISA) and director of D G Khaitan School, Malad.

The headmistress of a school which follows the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the school would divide the students into separate classrooms. “We’ll use smart classrooms to ensure that whatever is being taught by a teacher in one classroom will be transmitted to the other classrooms as well at the same time. Live interaction will also be made possible to clear doubts from students, if any,” she said.

“A robust health check mechanism for all staff and students has been put in place wherein all those entering the school premise will be thoroughly checked. Temperature will be screened and periodical self-health declaration before resumption and regularly thereafter will be done. We will re-open our schools in accordance with the regulations laid down by the state government,” said Jyotsna Mayadas Principal, Euro School in Thane.

“Common areas in the school premises will have a distance marker or floor markings to ensure social distancing is maintained among students and staff at all times. Floor marking provisions have been made in the corridors and elevators as well. Moreover, mask disposal provisions have been made across the school premises with adequate posters and banners to reinforce safety procedures and policies,” she added.

“We plan to divide the class in half with 50% attendance online and the rest in school; the concept of blended learning is in the pipeline so that none of the students miss out on classroom education. We plan to have only one child on each bench and mention their name on it as well making it a permanent seat; although sanitation will be carried out regularly,” said Ranjna Jangra, principal of B K Birla School, Kalyan.

Not all schools, however, have the capacity to do so.

State board schools, which have more students per class, face a shortage of teachers to implement such plans. “With online classes, 100-150 students can attend the class together and a teacher can pay attention to everyone but once physical classes begin with the social distancing norms in mind, we can’t have more than 25-30 students in one classroom. This means a teacher will have to go from one class to another to teach the same subject to students of the same batch,” said the principal of a state board school, who chose to remain anonymous.

Meanwhile, parents’ groups are not keen to resume physical classes, especially in cities where Covid-19 numbers are still being recorded. Arundhati Chavan, president of Parent-Teachers Association United Forum said that the government should try pilot batches to understand the challenges posed by physical classes to schools and students. “Who will be responsible if one or more student contracts the virus?” she asked.

Most schools HT spoke to said that they would take the cue from parents despite the presence of SOPs. Meanwhile, students are concerned that the change will come at the cost of a disturbance to their schedules.

Spruha Londhe, 14, student of Delhi Public School, Nerul, said, “This is a very crucial academic year for me as I am in class 10; for the previous batch it was marks from the entire academic year that led to their final scores. So we have to ensure consistent performance throughout the year. If we have to shift between online and offline classes it will be difficult to adjust and maintain consistency in academics.”

The headmistress of a Santacruz-based school which follows the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the school would divide the students into separate classrooms.

In November last year, the school education department had released a similar circular announcing re-opening of schools for classes 9 to 12 in a phased manner. By January 2021, another circular was released directing students from classes 5 to 8 be brought back to school in groups and maintain Covid appropriate behaviour on campus. Both these circulars, however, were revoked once Covid cases started rising again and the state government called for another complete lockdown starting mid-April.

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