A staff member checks the temperature of students at Shankarrao Bajirao Patil High School in Solapur on Monday.
A staff member checks the temperature of students at Shankarrao Bajirao Patil High School in Solapur on Monday.

35% schools reopen in Maharashtra, report around 9% attendance

Principals, teachers attribute the low turnout to poor planning on part of the government, confusion about guidelines and the fear among parents about the pandemic
By Ankita Bhatkhande
UPDATED ON NOV 24, 2020 12:18 AM IST

The state government’s decision to reopen schools for Class 9 to Class 12 received poor response on the first day as only around 9% attendance was recorded. As per the data shared by the state education department, 2.99 lakh students attended 9,127 schools after they reopened on Monday for the first time since March.

While the lowest attendance was seen in Amravati (less than 1%), highest turnout was seen in Solapur (34%).

State education minister Varsha Gaikwad said, “We got details from schools across the state and in many places, good attendance was reported. We have instructed schools to continue online learning for students who wish to opt for that option.”

The data also revealed that 1,353 of more than 1.41 lakh teachers who underwent Covid-19 tests were detected with the virus, while 290 of over 44,000 members of the non-teaching staff were also tested positive for Covid-19.

In Mumbai, where schools will be closed till December 31, of the 7,715 who underwent testing, 21 were found positive. Ten of the 2,329 non-teaching staff members are also detected with Covid-19.

Only 35% schools across the state reopened on Monday, with 50% students in these schools asked to attend on a rotational basis. Schools in various parts of the state like Chandrapur, Solapur, Satara and Beed reported poor attendance on the first day according to principals and teachers. They attributed the low turnout to poor planning on part of the government, confusion about guidelines and most importantly, the fear among parents about the pandemic.

“We had planned the reopening well in advance but students did not turn up. Our teachers have undergone RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests and the school premise has been sanitised. Several parents had also given their consent to send their children but they didn’t turn up,” said Balu Bhoyar, principal, Karamveer Vidyalaya in Chandrapur.

In many parts of the state, the government’s decision to make RT-PCR tests mandatory led to long queues at testing centres which, in several rural areas, have a limited testing capacity. Many such schools were still awaiting their turn for testing, after the local administration had given them dedicated slots.

“We have been given the testing slot for Wednesday. Until teachers get tested, we don’t think that students will turn up. The government should have planned this well,” said the principal of a school in Beed.

Many schools said that even in the most interior parts of Maharashtra, where internet connectivity was poor and offline classes are needed, parents are hesitant to send their children to school.

“Parents really want to send their children to go to school but they are worried because cases of Covid-19 are still being reported in the village. We cannot force them to send their children in such a situation because the risk is huge,” said Mahesh Kumar Shinde, in-charge principal of a zilla parishad school in Takalsing, Beed.

At Satara’s Karad, several parents choose not to send their children to school on the first day. Arjun Koli, principal of the school run by the Karad Municipal Corporation and a member of the state government’s think tank, said, “Parents are worried that by signing the consent form and sending their children, they will be responsible if something unfortunate happens amid the pandemic. There is also some ambiguity on how to teach even in cases where students attend in large numbers, as the education department is yet to set an academic calendar for the coming days.”

In Solapur, after several teachers tested positive for Covid-19, many parents chose not to send their children to school.

“Parents are obviously worried after hearing about these reports. They feel that sending children to school now is a big risk,” said Rajkiran Chavan, a teacher from an aided school in Solapur.

Schools across 25 districts in the state were allowed to reopen from Monday. The local administration in Mumbai and Pune decided against reopening schools from Monday.

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