Delhi: Low turnout on day one as it’s back to school in city
Students in Delhi on Wednesday walked into classrooms for the first time in 17 months, with schools allowing classes between 9 and 12 to reopen under strict Covid-19 guidelines, even as heavy morning rain and Covid-related apprehensions appeared to impact attendance on the opening day.
In the national capital, the schools have been reopened on the condition that all staff are vaccinated and the occupancy in classrooms is 50% with staggered seating and sanitised desks. Parents’ consent is mandatory for the students to attend classes.
Despite heavy rainfall in the morning, many students turned up for physical classroom sessions, especially in government schools. Most private schools are expected to reopen in a staggered manner from next week once they acquire consent from parents and manage other logistics, according to people aware of the developments.
“Schools were closed for the last 1.5 years due to the pandemic. During this time, there has been a lot of damage to the education of the children. We are concerned about the health of the children but also their education. If schools and colleges are not opened now, then an entire generation will move forward with a knowledge gap,” Delhi’s deputy chief minister and education minister Manish Sisodia said.
Schools across India were shut in mid-March last year when a countrywide lockdown was imposed to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from spiralling out of control. To be sure, while schools reopened for a brief period in January and February for students from classes 9 to 12, offline classes were once again suspended in April following the second wave of infections (fourth for the Capital) that pushed health infrastructure to the brink.
Last month, schools reopened their doors for students from classes 10 and 12 following orders from the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) allowing board students to come to schools for practical exam-related activities. On August 27, the Delhi government allowed schools to reopen for classes 9 to 12 with mandatory parental consent.
On Wednesday, Sisodia said it was crucial to open schools to bridge the knowledge gap. He said that the decision on opening schools for other classes will be taken based on the experience of the first round of reopening. Addressing concerns regarding safety, he said that any school found to be at risk of Covid-19 spread will be closed within 30 minutes.
In line with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by DDMA on Monday, mandatory thermal screening, alternate seating arrangements and restricted seating capped at 50% per classroom are among the measures being adopted by schools that reopened on Wednesday.
Other than Delhi, eight states widened the classroom activities at schools beginning Wednesday. While Haryana schools extended the reopening to classes 4 and 5, Madhya Pradesh resumed its physical classes for the first time since the pandemic began last year. Uttar Pradesh reopened classes 1 to 5 at the schools, and in Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, students of classes 9 to 12 returned to school. In Telangana, all classes except residential schools and tribal welfare schools with hostel facilities were allowed to open.
Before entering their respective classes in Delhi, students were thermally scanned and asked to sanitise their hands. The written consent from parents was also checked for those who did not submit it online. Within the classrooms, students were made to sit on alternate benches.
On account of rain, the attendance was lower than what was expected, officials at some schools said. However, most school heads said that children were enthusiastic about returning to school and the attendance was expected to pick up in the coming days.
Chitender Singh Verma, school principal, Chirag Enclave-Sarvodaya (Co-ed) Vidyalaya (Kautilya), said that many students turned up for classes on Wednesday despite the rain and waterlogging. Out of the nearly 800 students enrolled in the eligible classes, around 300 students turned up for physical classroom sessions. The school started in-person interactions with a happiness class and a counselling session. “In the coming few days, we will continue to interact with students and learn about their experiences of the past one and a half years. Through Mission Buniyaad, special focus will be given to students who need extra support in improving their reading and writing skills,” said Verma.
To comply with the distancing norms, most schools conducted classes in batches. At Modern Public School, Shalimar Bagh, students are being called on an odd-even basis. “We have implemented roll numbers based on odd and even basis. This step has been taken to limit the student strength, making it easier to manage and relatively safer for everyone,” said school principal Alka Kapur.
The school has 768 students in the classes that have opened. Out of 384 odd-numbered students, only 38 visited the school on Wednesday. “A big reason why students could not come today was heavy rainfall this morning,” said Kapur.
Malini Narayanan, the chairperson of the National Progressive Schools’ Conference, which has 122 Delhi schools under its umbrella, said that while attendance was tepid on Wednesday due to rain, students were enthusiastic about returning to school. “Students were happy to be back in school though the rain was disappointing. Many children trickled in late, and we happily welcomed them. In classes 10 and 12, we saw attendance between 70% and 80% and it will certainly pick up in the coming days,” said Narayanan.
Vishal Kumar, a Class 9 student of Chirag Enclave-Sarvodaya (Co-ed) Vidyalaya (Kautilya), said his first day back was largely spent interacting with teachers and checking on the progress in different subjects. “Online classes are fraught with disturbances...,” he said.