YourSpace: Schools must remain closed until a vaccine is available, say Pune readers
At our schools, we put the safety of our students and faculty members at the top. Looking at the gravity of the circumstances, and the uncertainty surrounding it, we feel that schools must remain closed and education must continue through the online medium. Education is very essential. However, life is precious, and we cannot jeopardise the health and safety of our teachers and students. Unless we have a vaccine that has been proven effective and made available for the masses, the threat of the pandemic still looms large. In such a situation, the reopening of schools is an unnecessary risk. Our school has re-worked the time-table and assessments in a way that children are actively engaged in education and extra-curricular activities. This holds good for students in the secondary section too. We have ensured that they are given assignments, and tests on a regular basis to ensure their learning outcomes are met. Much as we believe that class nine and 10th are crucial, we also need to prioritize the health and safety of our students. We have done everything to ensure the quality of education has not been compromised while ensuring the safety of our students and teachers. Besides, we are constantly in touch with the parents too, and they are very supportive of the decision to continue with online classes.
Reopening junior colleges ill-advised right now
This is the most impractical step. A decision like this could have far-reaching consequences. In junior colleges with 120 students per classroom, we have three students seated on a bench, even if we restrict it to one student per bench sanitising all surfaces likely to be touched by students seems to be a very farfetched idea. I’m unable to understand how our limited housekeeping staff would be able to achieve this and how I would feel assured it is carried out satisfactorily since even they are at the risk of being exposed to the virus. Students normally enter the college premises about 15 minutes before the class and so recording the temperature of about 400 odd students and maintaining social distancing would be tough. Also, about 80 to 90 per cent of junior college students use public transport since they are all below 18. How can we put them at risk? Almost all parents have voiced their objection to this step and are not willing to send their children to college right now.
Dr Gulshan Gidwani
Time to reopen schools with caution and safety guidelines
Following the directives of the government, the administration ordered that schools be opened only for students of Classes 9, 10, 11 and 12 as these students have to take board exams this year or the next and be eligible and prepared for national and international level competitive exams and admissions, without wasting an academic year. A total of 2.32 lakh students are dependent on public schooling in rural areas of Pune but unfortunately, almost 90,000 among them do not have a screen to access learning in their homes. Furthermore, 35 villages in the upper reaches of the Sahayari Hills do not have good internet facility to stream e-learning content. We made public appeals for the donation of mobile phones, tablet computers and laptops but there was a limited response. A total of 1.7 lakh students accessed online learning platforms such as “Deeksha” from rural areas of Pune, but we found that students were more attuned to lectures in classrooms rather than self-learning using a digital screen, though they are progressively becoming more comfortable now. We have provided self-learning workbooks, phone-based support from teachers and community classes but it’s difficult to systematically monitor these programs. The curriculum in senior classes requires students to do lab work and project work that requires school laboratories and libraries. Most of the students in rural areas do not have an effective academic guide at home and so there was a pressing need to open schools. A third of the villages in rural areas of Pune have never had a single Covid-19 case while today over 90 per cent of the villages do not have an active case. The daily deaths have also fortunately reduced to a fifth of what it was two months ago. Children are allowed to travel in flights and visit homes of relatives so definitely young adults in ages between 14-18 years, in areas with very few Covid-19 cases could attend schools to lay the foundation for their future. The administration has empowered school management committees, consisting of parents and teachers to ensure proper planning and implementation of those plans especially for sanitisation of toilets and touchpoints like door handles and railings, the practice of social distancing while travelling to schools, in-corridors and in-classrooms. Also, the use of masks at all times. All teachers are mandatorily undergoing RT-PCR tests and the positivity is less than 0.2 per cent while students are being screened every day. 546 Doctors around the district have been tasked to provide immediate medical attention in case of any symptoms but fortunately, not one new case has been reported in schools. We are monitoring by the hour through a special unit within the district’s IDSP Cell. Typically, the attendance is low in the first week after vacations and this has been a very long vacation. As parents see visible security, we are hoping for and are preparing for full attendance in classrooms. We are working to build confidence through visible action in schools and counselling by teachers and other parents. We fear that some girls may be forced to drop out of schools and we have directed the 21,000 women volunteers who helped prevent and support victims of domestic violence during the pandemic to ensure that girls continue their education and prevent any child-marriages. Opening schools also give a psychological message to young adults to take responsibility, face risks with caution and do their duty. If as a society we do not give this message, we would not find soldiers to protect our borders or nurses to serve in Covid wards. Schools, especially in India, serve multiple purposes beyond education, and even beyond nutrition.
Schools are integral for growth, must re-open them
Whether a child should go to school or not is a rhetoric which is in the mind of every parent. As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), data collected suggests that children under the age of 18 years represent 8.5 per cent of reported cases worldwide with a milder form of the disease and fewer symptoms. Children with chronic respiratory illness (Asthma), diabetes, obesity are at a higher risk. The role of children transmission is unknown. However, fewer outbreaks have been reported within educational settings. Does this information help the plight of any parent? To decode this conundrum here are some facts that might help. The return to school depends upon the protective measures taken to minimise the risk of infection not only within the school but also outside.
Steps taken by parents include monitoring their child’s health, good hygiene practices which include teaching the child how to cough, sneeze into a tissue or elbow, washing hands regularly with soap water for at least 20 seconds, and the frequent use of sanitiser. On school re-opening, regular health check-ups are necessary. The schools should maintain a physical distance of desks of at least three to six feet apart, with fewer students in a classroom. Having lunch at desks should be encouraged. Schools should make use of outdoor spaces whenever possible and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Teachers should guide the proper use of face masks and hand hygiene. For children under the age of five, masks should be optional, six-11 years masks should be worn as per a risk-based approach, the adolescent should wear masks mandatorily. These simple steps can help our children make this pandemic the new normal. School is an integral part in shaping the cognition and developmental skills in a child’s life. Institutionalised learning shapes the ethical, behavioural attitude facilitating the transition to adulthood.
Dr Indrani Misra
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- The SII also plans to export Covishield doses to Brazil in the coming days.