Kashmir valley is gradually returning to normal after the second phase of Covid lockdown. The Jammu and Kashmir government has already lifted the weekend restrictions in 16 districts of the union territory. Now, only four districts including the summer capital Srinagar are presently having weekend restrictions. Marketplaces are open now and public transport too is back on the roads. Public gardens and restaurants have also thrown open their doors but so far there is no word on reopening of educational institutions despite a significant dip in the number of Covid positive cases.
The government on Sunday ordered that the educational institutions in the union territory will continue to remain closed till July 31. The order must have disappointed the school administrations and students that had expressed willingness to resume regular offline classes. However, there is some hope that regular classes might be allowed to function from August.
The JK Education Chamber (JKEC), an amalgam of several private schools associations, had last week urged the government to start offline classes in a phased manner. The spokesperson of JKEC had stated that the opening of schools in offline mode was essential for the ‘overall development of the students. The parents on the other hand are still in a dilemma whether or not to send their wards to schools. While some feel that children should not be sent to schools as they have not been vaccinated yet, other parents feel that it is time to start classes for the students of higher classes.
Their fears are not unfounded as souls below the age of 18 years are yet to be vaccinated. At the same time, there are fears that the third wave will hit the unvaccinated children the most. Therefore, keeping schools shut for the time being seems like a wise option even though many may point out that parents have no problems sending their children for tuition. And then, kids can be found roaming around freely in markets and other public places. It is high time to first reopen higher institutions especially the universities and colleges.
After ensuring vaccination of staff and students, the classes should be allowed to resume with strict adherence to Covid protocols. In this regard, the Directorate of Health Services Kashmir had recently issued a notification that the vaccination drive for teaching, non-teaching staff and eligible students would be done before reopening of colleges and schools after the Covid lockdown.
The directorate had also kick-started a vaccination drive from Amar Singh College, Srinagar last week. Officials had further said the drive was aimed to get staff and students vaccinated before the reopening of education institutions. Earlier this year in March, educational institutions had reopened in a phased manner. Some schools had opted for rotational online and offline classes. Therefore, educational institutions should be allowed to resume classes in a phased manner and on a rotational basis from next month.
Health experts have already revealed that continuous lockdowns have affected the mental health of children. The children in Kashmir have been hit harder as they have mostly been confined to their respective homes since August 5, 2019. For three years now, the students have mostly not attended school. The negative effects on the psyches of children that had to start schooling in November-December 2019 are unimaginable. The generation that had to start schooling in 2019 and 2020 is yet to understand what a real school means. Despite attending online classes for two years, they have not yet been accustomed to waking up early, getting ready for school, or being dropped and picked up at the bus stop. And online classes can never create an atmosphere of regular schooling where kids have lunch breaks, play with fellow students, and study by themselves without the help of their parents as is seen during online classes. In fact, parents have been found complaining that they do a lot of homework during online classes that are meant to be done by their wards. Besides depression and other mental health issues, doctors have also noticed increasing obesity among children. The situation can get worse in case online classes continue.
Staying home has increased mobile addiction. Mental health experts opine that classroom culture can prevent kids from falling prey to various social evils. Kashmir is witnessing rampant drug abuse. There has been a spurt in suicide cases. Reopening regular classes is not going to control social evils, but the offline mode is vital for the overall development of the students that can never be possible in online classes. True, online classes were necessitated by the Covid lockdown but this should not become a norm. The government should now draft and make public the plan to reopen educational institutions in a phased manner.
(Views expressed are personal. Email: [email protected])