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Back to school?


When Covid-19 hit the world in March 2020, it not only impacted the existing healthcare but also rattled the academic setup across India. As per official data, as many as 15 lakh schools had to closed across the country and the shutdown left nearly 30 crore students away from in-person studies.  Now after a catastrophic second wave, the country is witnessing some breather as the number of daily cases and fatalities has gone down. Several states are now in the process of unlock or have already done so. At least nine states — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha and Punjab — have either re-opened their schools partially or are in the process to do so, news reports suggest. In most places, physical classes are being, or will be, carried out for 10-12 graders, with 50 per cent attendance. What it means is that students will be required to attend the schools every alternate day. In Bihar and Gujarat, schools have reopened from July 12 and July 15 respectively for physical classes. The Maharashtra government has resumed conventional schooling for 8-12 graders from July 15 on locations where not a single case of Covid-19 has been reported in the last one month. Punjab and Odisha plan to reopen schools from July 26 for 10-12 graders with certain riders. UNESCO, the education arm of the United Nations, has reported that at the peak of the outbreak in September 2020, nearly 72 crore children were impacted worldwide. The situation has since improved. But studies show school closures adversely impact children at various levels. According to UNESCO, “schooling provides essential learning, and when schools close, children and youth are deprived of opportunities for growth and development. The disadvantages are disproportionate for underprivileged learners who tend to have fewer educational opportunities beyond school.” UNESCO found that longer closures lead to rising dropout rates as “economic shocks place pressure on children to work and generate income for financially distressed families.” Full re-opening of schools in all states will largely depend on the vaccination drive. But the emergence of new variants of Covid-19 remains a cause of concern. Since their social interaction has been reduced drastically, children have become more restless and finicky. On top of it, schools forcing students to attend online ‘classes’ have had its own negative impact. What was started as a measure to temporarily have an alternate to physical classes has now turned into a necessary evil. Yes, online classes are not at all advisable for the long term but in Kashmir hardly anyone is raising this question. The private schools are sticking to this unhealthy routine with utter shame and at the cost of students’ mental and physical wellbeing. The J&K government needs to address this matter on priority and ensure that physical classroom activity resumes as soon as possible. The continuous absence from schools is going to have a great impact on the learning as well as the psychological build up of the students. Resuming physical classes might pose a risk of increase in Covid-19 cases however it can be mitigated if due precautions are taken and students and teachers strictly follow the set Covid-appropriate behaviour.