Schools reopening: Some parents keen, some hesitant

Hours after the state government announced its decision of reopening schools for students from classes 1 to 12 across Maharashtra from December 1, reactions from parents and schools ranged from hesitancy and apprehension to willingness
Reactions on school reopening from parents and schools ranged from hesitancy and apprehension to willingness. (Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)
Reactions on school reopening from parents and schools ranged from hesitancy and apprehension to willingness. (Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)
Published on Nov 25, 2021 11:55 PM IST
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ByAnkita G Menon and Shreya Bhandary, Mumbai

Hours after the state government announced its decision to reopen schools for students from classes 1 to 12 across Maharashtra from December 1, reactions from parents and schools ranged from hesitancy and apprehension to willingness.

“Since children have been confined to their computer screens for the last 19 months, the decision to resume physical classes, though very sudden, is a good move,” said Dadar resident Shiv Sawant, parent of Class 3 student Sarthak and Class 6 student Sahana from Balmohan Vidyamandir at Shivaji Park.

He added, “We also need to mentally prepare younger children to go to school and it will not be possible within a week. If they call smaller children after a fortnight, I will be happier to send my child to school. As of now, I am not sure if they will be keen.”

On Thursday, Maharashtra school education minister Varsha Gaikwad announced that classes 1 to 7 will resume in urban areas and classes 1 to 4 in rural areas. All other classes had already commenced.

Gaikwad added that the school education department will soon release the standard operating procedure (SOP) for schools to follow. As per information shared by the state school education department, there are 13.4 million students studying between classes 1 to 7 in the state and more than half a million teachers for these batches.

While some schools are apprehensive of having the entire lot of students within school premises in view of social distancing norms, there are some schools that say they are prepared.

Parents, who are keen to send their children to school, expressed their concerns on the implementation of Covid protocols, while a section showed interest in sending their children to school even if it is once a week, so that they get accustomed to the physical education pattern.

“I am comfortable sending my kid to school since everything else has anyway resumed for children. As a parent, it was difficult to manage my child’s transition from pre-primary to Class 1 in the online mode since my daughter was used to being treated as a toddler in school. Now that she suddenly has to write a lot and has homework as well, attending physical classes will be beneficial,” said Thane resident Ashu Jain, parent of 7-year-old Tiana, a student of Rainbow International School, Thane.

Jain added, “We have to live with Covid and hence it is important that children also learn how to manage in a pandemic situation. Even if schools start with a non-instructional day once a week, students may find it easier to get used to the routine.”

With barely a week for schools and students to prepare, parents’ groups said the reopening date of December 1 is short notice.

“The senior classes are functioning well, as the older children are aware of how to follow Covid protocols, but it’s not the same with younger children. Schools will require at least 15 days to a month in order to prepare for the entire school to start functioning. Up to 20% of parents may send their children to school, but others will be reluctant and prefer to gauge the situation,” said Anubha Sahai, president, India Wide Parents’ Association.

Some schools feel reopening will be advantageous to younger students. “Due to virtual classes, toddlers have been missing an appropriate environment to learn and grow. Coming back to school is being welcomed by most parents and has also given teachers relief because nothing can replace physical classes. We are anxious but mostly just overjoyed to have our children back in school,” said Kavita Aggarwal, chairperson of Mumbai International Schools’ Association (MISA) and director of D G Khaitan School, Malad.

Leena Verma, Principal, St Joseph’s High School, said, “We are following the CBSE board and since we have board exams are currently on, all our protocols are in place and our staff has been trained accordingly. Even if we have to start school within a week, we are completely prepared. We have enough infrastructure to limit to 20 students in a classroom and all other Covid protocols are in place.”

While international schools are confident of managing the crowd, state board schools are feeling the pinch. “Each of our batches has three divisions, or 180 students in total. Bringing back young students will require more people on board to ensure Covid protocols are executed well. At present, many of our teachers are still waiting for their second vaccine dose. We are apprehensive about this move,” said a principal of a state board school in south Mumbai.

Kshama Valanjoo, assistant headmistress, VPM’s Vidya Mandir High School, Dahisar, said, “It will be difficult to conduct hybrid classes and at the same time maintain physical distance. As of now, we are awaiting guidelines or the SOP to be released by the state government as only that will give us an idea as to how we should plan. Currently, we only have only a third of the students attending school. But we will need more staff and infrastructure when the entire lot starts attending physical classes.”

Madhu Singh, principal, Billabong High International School, Malad, said, “We will be following partial resumption or full resumption only after receiving a formal directive from the state government. All main contact points and floors will have sanitiser booths installed; we also have a task force in place.”

Dr Samir Dalwai, a developmental and behavioural paediatrician and a member of the paediatric task force that recommended that schools be reopened, said, “With fewer positive cases, this is the appropriate time to reopen schools. When children wearing masks can go to malls and other public places, this should also not be a problem. However, parents and schools should ensure that the transition is slow and smooth, specifically for younger children. The children have been around their parents for almost two years now, and will be clingy and fussy. They will also find it difficult to adjust to the new routine. I would suggest schools to take it slow and not focus on completing the syllabus as it is important for children to get used to the school discipline and lack of screen time.”

How to ensure a smooth transition for children

By Dr Samir Dalwai, member, state paediatric task force

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