Mumbai: 'Parents and schools are on same side, side of students', say educators
Parents and educators from non-profit and private schools debate the tricky question of safety versus children's future
Should schools be reopened?
Revathi Srinivasan: I have 7,000 children in my school, and that makes me very cautious about when to open. The government has been good enough to ask for parental consent and we need at least 60 per cent of them to agree to start the school. We must start with a hybrid model as we cannot have everyone coming to school at the same time. Parents are apprehensive, it is natural; there isn't a vaccine yet. So everything will depend on parent, child and institution preparedness. I feel we have managed very well with virtual classes. We organised everything from school fests to school elections, online. While my students think they haven't missed a thing, the only thing that was truly missed was coming to school.
Dilbur Parakh: I am sure virtual learning went well for private schools, but for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, even something as simple as access to a device was a problem. When schools reopened in June, initially the learning happened on the phone, but by August we realised we had to do something about it and started a campaign called 'Back to school' to raise funds for laptops, and in some cases, phones. However, with the kind of homes they live in, to even look after the laptop is a challenge; Internet access is a problem. On the other hand, doing math and science on a simple mobile phone was almost impossible. Hence, in a broader aspect, it is important to get back to school. However, safety will be a priority and it has to be done in a staggered manner. The state government will have to step in with necessary medical and financial resources.
Dilbur Parakh, co-founder, Aseema, NGO
Sheetal Kadam: To get to school, children have to travel either by public or private transport and once they are out of home, they are exposed to the virus anyway. No matter where the barriers and checkpoints are, the exposure is definitely there. Some schools suggest weekly testing, but that's not foolproof because every day we are exposed to the virus. I do not think now is a good time to send children to school. Virtual school is doing well anyway and kids have got used to it. With just a few more months left for the academic year to end, why bring in a new destruction?
Srinivasan: We have a school for the underprivileged in the interiors of Madhya Pradesh and we did a good job of restarting the school there because the children had no access to devices. While there are quite a lot of good things about virtual classes because children do love exploring technology, it is also easier to fool a teacher in a virtual class. Distraction is easy, kids could be playing games or messaging.
Revathi Srinivasan, Principal, Sulochanadevi Singhania School
Somil Patel: Most of us in India live in a joint family and if one person is affected, chances are that the whole family will get affected. Several countries have reopened schools, and soon shut them. Some, however, such as South Korea, Australia and the Gulf countries are doing much better. Parents do temperature checks of kids at home, benches are placed in a way there is enough distance between students, kids wear masks and gloves at all times. What could we do differently here in our schools to avoid transmission?
Parakh: We have been reading news about children committing suicide in the country because the parents could not afford to give them a phone. Give people choice. I am not even sure if our parents are going to be sending their children to school for board exams and we hope that it is rescheduled for students' benefit as we have to catch up in so many ways.
Sheetal Kadam, Parent of 8-year-old and Somil Patel, Parent of 6-year-old
Will children be able to work with masks and face shields and have the discipline of sanitising at school?
Parakh: At Aseema, we believe that education is not just about English, math and science, it is how you conduct yourself, it is about the values, how you respect yourself and show consideration for the other person. Wearing your mask and putting on your shield, maintaining distance, is also a form of self discipline. When you go out, you don't see many people wearing their masks. If adults are not going to do it, how are we going to ask the children to?
What kind of precautions should schools take to not become superspreaders?
Kadam: When schools start, the seriousness shown there with respect to masks and sanitisation must be adhered to at home as well.
Patel: We must look to our East and learn a few things about discipline from countries like Japan. Even parents have to be responsible about this.
Srinivasan: Schools should not run full time. Maximum four days a week. I have planned a three-hour day. Parents and schools are not on either side of the table on this issue. We are all around the table with the child in the centre. Let's trust each other and have faith and let the education sector grow.
'Screen boredom setting in; ready to open'
Dilshad Akali, Guardian-Community Relationships, Tridha School
We are ready to open whenever the government now gives the go ahead, and will follow the SOP. Parents of Class X students have expressed a strong wish to send children to school, but I can't say the same regarding Class IX. However, students certainly wish to return. While the virtual class has gone decently well, one can't monitor and assess the emotional and mental health of students online. The exchange between students and teachers is more or less one way. Hence, we could not assess the impact of online teaching. However, we do sense a boredom and unease at being behind a screen. New behaviours have emerged. Teachers are finding it frustrating as there is no possibility for conversing and sharing feelings. Yet, we have been able to bring some colour and physical activity through online teaching.
'82% parents were against reopening'
Meera Issacs, principal, Cathedral and John Connon School
What a futile exercise this was. We sent out polls, got the school sanitised to make it equipped to start, following the SOP guidelines from the government and now this. It was totally unnecessary because this wouldn't have been a good time to let children come to school. A school is an entire system—there are many aspects of planning a reopening. Most of our teachers come from the suburbs and use the train. One wouldn't want to take that risk. I was recently reading about the post-COVID symptoms in children and the report is quite alarming. Besides, parents are not comfortable. About 82 per cent of our parents said no to reopening of schools. As for lab work, we will wait and watch what directives we get from the board and will plan accordingly.
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