Parents, teachers concerned about school reopening amid Covid-19

As per a new survey, most parents want to continue with the online classes for their children and would prefer to review the situation once the coronavirus numbers start reducing.

The Centre’s decision to partially reopen school on a voluntary basis comes at a time when the students have adapted themselves to the new normal. As the decision is aimed to bring back life to normalcy, students are now perplexed to decide between their health and career as both can’t be ignored. Gradually continuing the unlock process in the country, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued new sets of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to partially reopen physical classrooms for classes 9-12 from 21 September. The ministry has clearly mentioned that online/distance learning should continue to be permitted and also encouraged. Meanwhile, it also limited the strength of concerned teaching and non-teaching employees up to 50 % to be called to schools for online teaching/telecounselling and related work.

 Based on the recent government announcement of Unlock 4.0, Heritage Xperiential Learning School (HXLS) conducted an online survey for students and parents to understand their views regarding the reopening of schools for students outside of containment zones. The survey results stated that only 8% of parents/students expressed their desire to come to school under the current conditions for assistance classes. Most parents stated that they were happy with the online classes being offered and would prefer to review the situation once the Covid-19 numbers start reducing. Kevin Brady, head senior programme HXLS said, “We have largely adapted to lockdown conditions by using all available resources to foster meaningful online relationships with our students and as time has passed, this has become less difficult to accomplish. Based on the survey, while the majority of families may still prefer that these interactions take place virtually, we are prepared to provide the support students require in both virtual and traditional contexts. It is important that we carefully consider the needs and expectations of our families and embrace the flexibility to meet their needs.”

 Talking about parents’ unwillingness to send their children to school amid the fear of a pandemic, Sangeeta Hajela, principal, DPS Indirapuram, adds, “We consider it important to have a clear communication between all stakeholders — the management, parents, staff members (teaching/ non-teaching) and students. Their preparedness, both physical and mental, will be important before we embark on it. Parents’ consent, as per the advisory, would also be taken for the same. The infrastructural groundwork for reopening of the school is also very much in place, with all details carefully planned and executed.”

 The latest SOPs also make it mandatory for schools to maintain proper sanitation in the school campuses. For some, this may look easy but according to Anusha Shridhar, a student of class 12th, many schools in the country lack the basic infrastructure and resources to maintain the physical distancing norms and sanitation. “As crucial this may be, I think it is still very dangerous for students to step out of their houses for education. Not all schools have a big budget to install safety sanitary measures in their schools and without the basic facilities, it is just pointless for students to attend school. With the rising number of cases of coronavirus in India, you would be risking even more lives by opening schools and that is just not what the situation calls for,” says Anusha. 

“If our MPs who are sitting in Parliament are not safe then how can students or teachers feel safe amid the pandemic? Students use common washrooms, there are limited spaces and students often eat lunch together. If any one of them gets infected then there’s a possibility that others too may get infected. There’s also lack of transport facilities and public transport too offers a chance of Covid spread. Who will take care of it?” adds Vaishnavi Halder, a student of Amity University, Mumbai.

 Along with students, parents too have raised their concerns on reopening of school when India is reporting around one lakh Covid cases daily. “It’s not safe to send children to schools in a pandemic. Children unknowingly expose themselves to virus and there’s no one to guide them on the safety measures. It’s difficult for anyone to wear a mask for long hours. If children get infected, they can bring the virus home and it may spread in the family or in the locality as well. Senior citizens might get infected too. It would be better to continue classes for home right now,” says Purnima Biswas, a Raipur-based parent.

 However, Delhi-based parent Anu Bajaj also feels that it is a welcoming step as students would be able to take guidance from students.“ The children’s health is also to be taken in consideration while also looking after their academic development. As long as we stick to the safety guidelines and are vigilant towards managing our health, this decision is more than welcoming,” adds Anu.

 As the uncertainty remains, schools are doing their level best to ensure best safety measures to contain spread of virus in the campuses however, they feel that this decision will surely have consequential effects on every stakeholder. Pankaj Rathore, head master, Seth Anandram Jaipuria School, Lucknow says, “With all safety measures in place, we are very much ready and eager to get back in the classroom; however, amidst rising number of cases, reopening is tough. Many parents are fearful and afraid over reopening the school. If a teacher joins from an area with a higher number of cases and last but not the least, our helping staff, whether they will be able to come up transparent with their health problems. With concerns about no proper medication available at this point of time, regular physical classes will have consequential effects moving forward despite taking all precautionary measures. In the end we should understand that if we want to be successful in opening the schools, we need to strictly follow the blended learning approach.” 

Though concerns over Covid spread in schools are valid, many also believe that reopening of schools would allow the lesser privileged children, who lack resources like mobiles, Internet, computers, to be benefitted from physical classrooms. Dr Madhav Deo Saraswat, principal, The Scindia School, says, “Globally there have been few successes and some failures and therefore all the prescribed guidelines, even if followed fully, can never guarantee 100% safety. However, given the increased screen time, loneliness and unhealthy lifestyle; and the fact that there is a very small percentage of students in this country who have access to the necessary IT tools to continue knowledge acquisition, reopening, in my opinion, looks like a probable option.” 

Reena Rai, English TGT, Jindal Public School, Delhi, adds “A few of my students’ parents either lost their jobs or had to cut down on expenses, being able to afford a steady Internet connection and a personal phone/laptop for the child to attend classes was not easy. With the re-opening of schools, all my students will be able to take the classes that do not require over-the-top expenses, which was not possible earlier. I have witnessed that students need a non-virtual teacher-student relationship and a child-peer relationship that is necessary for a child’s physical and emotional growth.”

 It is difficult to match the quality of education only through online education, therefore, online education should be looked at as a very efficient but only an interim solution to continue the learning. “Operating systems of a school environment is based on various systems and processes run by the educators, administrators, students, and parents, it is not just about the readiness of physical infrastructure, school operations are designed to facilitate intellectual activities within its campus, the usage of mind is higher as compared to the other activities, therefore only a mind without fear can facilitate the learning, observe the learning and support the overall learning,” says Ritesh Rawal, founder, Dudes & Dolls The Cosmic School, Adhyay School, Delhi NCR.