Unlock 4: Students return to schools for academic guidance first time since March
Schools in four north-eastern states—Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Meghalaya—and Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and Jammu & Kashmir started functioning in line with the Centre’s guidelines
Students returned to schools on a voluntary basis for academic guidance at several places across India for the first time since March when educational institutes were shut as part of sweeping measures to enforce social distancing norms to check the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed around 88,000 lives in the country.
The Centre’s Unlock 4 guidelines, which were issued late last month to further ease the restrictions imposed in March to deal with the pandemic, allowed students of classes 9 to 12 outside containment zones to return to schools on a voluntary basis from September 21 (Monday) for the guidance. The Union health ministry on September 8 issued standard operating procedures (SOPs) saying only 50% of teaching and non-teaching staff will be allowed on campuses. Attendance is not mandatory for students.
Schools in four north-eastern states—Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Meghalaya—allowed students to return to campuses for the guidance in line with the guidelines and safety protocols, and social distancing norms in place. Officials said only students with written consent from their parents were allowed on the campuses. Schools will remain shut in Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur for now.
Assam’s secondary education director, Phanindra Jidung, said the situation will be reviewed after 15 days and that the SOPs are meant for all categories of schools. “Private schools have to decide when they want to resume their classes.”
According to the Assam-specific SOPs, classes 9 and 12 students will be allowed to seek guidance on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The remaining days will be reserved for classes 10 and 11 students.
Nagaland’s chief secretary, Temjen Toy, said students of classes 9 to 12 were being permitted to visit their schools in areas outside containment zones only on a voluntary basis for taking guidance from their teachers, subject to the written consent of their parents/guardians.
The Meghalaya government underlined that students would be allowed to return to schools to “clear their doubts” with their teachers. But no regular classes would be held until September 30.
“Regular class activities for schools, colleges, and educational institutions will continue to remain suspended until September 30,” Meghalaya’s principal secretary (education), DP Wahlang, said in an order.
In north India, schools in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and the Union Territories of Chandigarh and Jammu & Kashmir also reopened for students to seek the guidance.
Anjali Gupta, the principal of Jammu’s Government Ranbir Higher Secondary School, said they have been instructed to only open schools partially. “…those students who are facing problems with online classes due to network problems, or those who do not have android phones…must come to schools voluntarily to seek guidance from teachers,” she said.
“We have been directed to have 50% of staff. We have made a group for online classes. And we have intimated that those students who want guidance in any subject have to get letters of consent signed by their parents and come to school by following all SoPs given from time to time.” Gupta said they have sanitised and fumigated the school.
In Andhra Pradesh, officials said the students will be allowed to get their doubts cleared and not permitted be remain on the campuses throughout the school hours.
Ramavat Kamala, the headmistress of a high school in Andhra, said they reopened the school as per the state education commissioner’s orders and that all teachers have been asked to resume work. “Students of 9th and 10th classes only are allowed to [come to] school for clarification of doubts...”
She said they have been asked to wear masks and create awareness about sanitisation. “Students will be allowed to sit at a distance of six feet from each other in classrooms. They will be sent [back] immediately after getting clarifications.” She said the students have been asked to bring their own water bottles, and not to exchange them. “They are asked to sanitise [their hands] at regular intervals. The school was sanitised before the opening for students.”
Kamala said they sent back students, who did not bring approval letters, and cross-checked with parents of those who had them.
The closure of schools and online classes as an alternative triggered concern about the digital divide among students. Three-fourths of students in India did not have access to the internet at home, according to a 2017-18 all-India National Statistical Office survey. The share of those, who did not have computers or devices such as palm-tops and tablets, was much greater—89%. Access to these facilities was higher among students at higher levels of education. But even at the highest levels, a large share of students did not have access to these facilities.
(With agency inputs)