In defence of in-person classes

There’s enough anecdotal evidence of the toll that the absence of physical or in-person classes has taken on students
It’s almost as if shutting things down is fast becoming a panacea for all the ills that plague us; the frequency and felicity with which the term lockdown is being thrown around would seem to suggest that (Getty Images/iStockphoto) PREMIUM
It’s almost as if shutting things down is fast becoming a panacea for all the ills that plague us; the frequency and felicity with which the term lockdown is being thrown around would seem to suggest that (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Updated on Nov 22, 2021 07:55 PM IST
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ByHT Editorial

There’s enough anecdotal evidence of the toll that the absence of physical or in-person classes has taken on students. For the poor and the not-so-well-off, the digital divide has been near surmountable. And those with access have suffered from issues related to the quality of education and evaluation to, more worryingly, the development and psychological health of children. The impact is universal, but it is particularly strong towards the two ends of the spectrum.

There are, at this moment, children in Class 1 and 2 who are yet to see the inside of a real school. And there are, at this moment, students in classes 9, 10, 11, and 12 who are sub-optimally preparing (if that’s the word) for significant educational milestones, even as their evolution as young men and women ready to face the world takes a hit from the absence of a key input — socialisation. To be sure, this is a problem that isn’t just restricted to schools; to close the loop, there are, at this moment, students in year 2 of college who are yet to set foot in college. First, it was the pandemic; and in recent weeks in Delhi, it has been bad air (despite many schools having air purifiers and purification systems, and despite the air at homes being as bad as the air in schools). It’s almost as if shutting things down is fast becoming a panacea for all the ills that plague us; the frequency and felicity with which the term lockdown is being thrown around would seem to suggest that. On Covid-19, there’s now enough scientific evidence to suggest that schools can safely open for physical classes as long as students and teachers adhere to the prescribed protocol (to the extent possible), and as long as schools follow some basic practices in terms of ventilation. On pollution, keeping schools shut but allowing construction seems an entirely misplaced response. As long as schools avoid outdoor activities, there’s no reason why they should not conduct physical classes.

India’s (and the world’s) experience with Covid-19 has also shown the importance of leveraging extended periods when cases remain low; the country is passing through such a phase now with cases at a 17-month low. There may not be another surge, but learnings from the past 20 months suggest that we should always be prepared for one — which makes an even more compelling case to make sure young people get every possible minute of in-person education while they can. Keeping schools closed for physical classes isn’t just the wrong option, but also unfair to young people.

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Sunday, December 05, 2021