A tough tread back to school : The Tribune India

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A tough tread back to school

A tough tread back to school

Geetu Vaid

With schools being closed for over three months now, parents, students and teachers are all looking forward to things getting back to normal. But are our schools equipped to resume classes, what measures have been put in place, and most of all is it the right time to reopen or not — these are the key questions. As the debate over the reopening of schools rages, we ask Principals of schools from across the region about the “action plan” that they have prepared to ensure safety of children on returning to the classrooms. Here’s what they have to say:

Not until India is covid free

To be or not to be — these eternal words by Shakespeare, hold more importance today than ever before. To reopen or not, and when to reopen — that’s the question topmost on every parent, government official, school owner, teacher, transporter, as well as on every principal’ mind.

As the co-owner and principal I am constantly evaluating risks and doing risk management, including SWOT analysis, reviewing SOPs and keeping an eye on the experiences in other countries around the world where schools have been reopened only to be shut again after Covid positive cases being reported.

Manjeet Madra, Principal, The Elite American Corporate School, Patiala

Personally speaking, the result of all my risk assessment shows that while we may be able to address many risks using standard procedures like washing hands, use of sanitisers, not allowing sharing between children, avoiding functions and contact sports, ensuring social distancing among kids is going to be the biggest challenge. Asymptomatic transmission makes reopening all the more risky. Even though we have made preparations for scanning children before they board the buses, how can we be really sure unless Covid-19 tracing is mandatory for all parents and the data is made available to the school daily.

In the theory of risk management, there are two elements of risk Likelihood and Severity. If something is not going to cause severe damage but the likelihood of it happening is very high, then also it is considered high risk. On the other hand, if the severity of something is very high but the likelihood of it happening is very low, then also the risk is considered very high. In the case of the this pandemic, both, the likelihood and the severity are extremely high whilst the risk mitigating measures have some gaps that cannot be truly addressed.

So in hindsight, do I think that schools should be re-opened? Well, not until India is COVID19 free. And the parents, who have the biggest national resource, their children, also seem to think so. Survey after survey by various channels or agencies has shown that around 80 to 90% of them won't send their children even if the schools reopen before India is COVID19 free.

On the other hand, I understand that the schools employ millions and are a big part of restarting the economy. Therefore, as a school, we have already hired a second principal who will be full-time principal of Covid response management and implementation. We have already hired a second set of teachers for all subjects so that we can carry on classroom as well as online classes in tandem without burdening the teachers or degrading the quality of pedagogy.

Patience is the key

Every school is struggling and brainstorming about the best strategy to adopt when the schools reopen. Social and physical distancing is almost impossible amongst younger children and that will make it a difficult situation to handle.

Amita Dhaka, Principal, Delhi Public School, Ambala

In my opinion we all should have patience and should not be in a hurry to reopen schools. I feel in the current scenario we must abide strictly by the guidelines of the health department. Also in India we have different types of schools ranging from some elite schools with state-of-the-art facilities to others struggling even for basic amenities.

Maintaining high amount of hygiene as required to defeat corona virus is questionable? To be safe, and keep others safe is our utmost responsibility as an aware citizen of the world. Our mission at this moment should be, ' save life first'.

Measures in place for staggered reopening

We are not comfortable with the idea of opening the schools. Only once we have zero cases in the tricity over a ‘safe period’ and as per the directions given by the Administration and with the consent of the parents, should the schools be opened in a structured manner after putting all safety measures as per the guidelines provided by the appropriate authorities. Classes should first be resumed for students of Board classes.

Ritu Bali, Principal, AKSIPS-41 Smart School, Chandigarh

Suggestions for safety measures

  1. School premises should be fumigated and sanitised everyday.
  2. Proper medical staff and medical room with necessary medical provisions as per the directions of appropriate authorities should be maintained.
  3. Children should be allowed to come only either with their parents or by school bus and follow the rules and regulations fixed by the administration regarding this.
  4. Everyone should be checked for fever at the entry point and properly sanitised.
  5. If anybody is found sick and unwell as per the prescribed standard guidelines ,he/she should be sent back and can rejoin only after providing the fitness certificate of the approved medical authority fixed for it by the administration.
  6. Masks should be mandatory for all.
  7. For observing social distancing of 2 metres, appropriate student - teacher ratio per classroom size-wise should be fixed.
  8. Fixed seating arrangements should be followed in the classrooms.
  9. Everyone should bring their personal soaps and sanitisers also.
  10. No canteen facility.
  11. Water-coolers and washrooms should be constantly sanitised.
  12. No group activities and sports, only individual activities and sports.
  13. Regular meditation, yoga and breathing exercises for 15 minutes.
  14. All the guidelines should be put up in all the classes and important areas of the school. Daily safety instructions should be given over the microphone at the beginning of the school.
  15. All should eat their food in the break period in their own class.
  16. One period should be allowed for going out section-wise at different times. Suppose more than one section needs to go out then different areas should be allotted where all would observe social distancing and be under the supervision of the teacher.

After a safe interval once the above classes have settled and are running smoothly Classes XI and IX should be allowed. Junior classes can continue with online sessions and wait till the overall situation pertaining to the pandemic improves.

For incorporating all these measures administration should provide funds to the unaided schools.

Imbibe lessons from across the world

Reopening of schools has indeed become a tricky proposition these days in the wake of the daily spike in positive corona virus cases. According to many experts the situation might turn grim and peak in July-August. Schools across the nation have been closed since mid-March just before the Centre decided to impose the nationwide lockdown. In such a scenario sending children to schools would obviously evoke strong reactions all around. It is a fact that offices are functional; shops and malls are open, but sending the children to school is an entirely different matter.

Sr Tara BS, Principal, Infant Jesus Convent School, Mohali

As much of the world remains under some form of lockdown or the other, a few countries have taken the brave decision of reopening schools albeit with precautions. Countries like China and Denmark have encouraged measures such as staggered attendance, social distancing in classrooms and wearing protective visor caps or masks. Denmark has also experimented with the idea of outdoor classes. In Australia too, the schools have reopened with the practice of “one person-one day-a week and learning from home for the rest” criteria. In Taiwan social distancing measure are being enforced by schools through means like plastic partitions during lunch breaks. France has been observing individual chalk squares and smiley’s during play hours in pre-schools. But remember as much as one society is different from the other, circumstances from one part of the world varies from the other. Ours is a completely different society with a different lifestyle. The school administration would definitely take a leaf out of the book of these countries and would definitely ponder over the loss of a child’s crucial academic years and the uncertainty surrounding the future of education.

However, I feel that in these unprecedented times, instead of rushing to the decision of reopening, the administration would try to develop an entirely new perspective towards the approach to the teaching learning process.

Going by the current status of Covid-19, the physical environment doesn’t seem to be conducive and safe for the children especially the younger ones. So, it is imperative that schools would try to move on from an actual classroom set-up to a digital one that has a completely new outlook.

The school management will definitely gauge the situation and assess a whole lot of measures and guidelines such as policy reforms, financial options, safety protocols, monitoring health indicators and the focus on well-being and protection before arriving at any decision.

No compromise would be made in matters of staggered attendance, social distancing, hygiene and sanitation. No matter when the situations turn normal and schools reopen, the life after the pandemic would be no cake walk for any school administration.

Accept the new normal before resuming routine

"Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced." — John Keats

A few months back everything which is happening today seemed impossible and impractical. They say, change is the law of nature and I believe that nothing is more dynamic than human mind. We absorb the changes as quickly as a sponge does and we tend to make stronger and more powerful comebacks than ever.

Monica Sharma, Principal, PML SD Public School, Chandigarh

Meanwhile Covid-19 has made us all distressed and has affected the super energetic and restless group i.e. the teenagers the most. Schools have always been a blessing for the children literally and metaphorically. They are not just the institutions providing education but their holistic approach results in an overall personality building of an individual. Needless to say, all the educational institutions, altogether as well as independently have tried to leave no stone unturned in providing their services to the students. However the formal setup is being compromised. The laboratories, libraries, classrooms, playing courts and the essence of discipline cannot be covered online. Moreover, keeping in view, the lack of basic facilities needed for online learning, screams loud for the reopening of schools.

Multifarious steps can be taken by school managements and authorities for the reopening. Modifying the syllabus by waning off some topics, approaches like odd-even attendance of students, sanitising the school every day and encouraging online teaching- learning can be some of the new moves.

The sensitive situation from which we all are going through presently calls for very strong measures of safety and we cannot deny it.

Reopening of schools is a colossal challenge for the governments and not to mention the school authorities. Nevertheless it's an attainable and necessary design if all the precautions are followed at least for the secondary and senior secondary groups, in near future. 

Also, considering the severity of the situation and the inability of the younger groups to understand and follow the set norms to safeguard their own selves, it will be difficult to resume offline classes for them. However as it is said, “Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time” we can conveniently say that they’ll get accustomed to the new settings sooner or later. 

50% for three days a week

In the current scenario, it is important to first apprise the students to follow the SOPs for their safety. The schools should open in a phased manner with senior classes first phase, middle classes second phase and primary classes in the last phase.

Amita Khorana, Principal, Shishu Niketan Sr. Sec. School, Sec 22, Chandigarh

The best option could be 50% students being called 3 days a week so that all students get time and continue the studies with reduced syllabus. The senior students from classes IX to XII can be called in the beginning to start attending school as they are mature to understand the precautions to be taken.

Starting of other classes can be decided based on the situation of COVID prevailing at that time. Teachers should be given a refresher course for disseminating SOPs before the opening of school which should further be passed on to the students in initial days to ensure compliance by them for their overall well being and safety. Sanitisation of classes, thermal checking, safe distancing with reduced teaching hours need to be considered for the opening of schools.

Following do’s and don’ts strictly

Reopening of schools is a big question for the country at present as education is one of the most important factors which can't be neglected. But now the question is: should it be continued by putting the health of children at risk?

Suman Lata, Principal, Vidya Valley School, New Sunny Enclave, Mohali

Our school will follow the following measures on reopening:

  1. Sanitisation of the entire institution will be done on priority.
  2. At entrance the temperature of each and every student, staff member and every visitor will be checked and noted down. In case temperature is not normal, that person will not be allowed to enter in the school.
  3. Wearing mask will be mandatory. Actually masks will be a mandatory part of the school uniform.
  4. Regular disinfection of the entire building will be the part of precautionary measures.
  5. Health monitoring staff will monitor each student and staff during school hours and there will be the proper arrangement of transportation system to drop a sick person at his home/health centre.
  6. Social distancing will be followed. We are planning for a staggered beginning and end of the school day so that different slots can be made so that school premises doesn’t have many students at same time.
  7. Seating arrangements will create space for children's desks to be at least six feet apart.
  8. Cancelling assemblies, sports games and other events that create crowded conditions.
  9. New norms for school buses will be framed which will ensure the social distancing.
  10. Do’s and don’ts will be framed for washrooms and corridors.

Our school has surplus infrastructure to follow social distancing practices properly.

Foolproof planning is the key

Whether to open schools at present pandemic crisis or not has become a debating point globally. But fact is everybody is looking for normalcy which could be seen only when children start going to school without the fear of Covid. In fact, there are different studies suggesting infection rates are similar in children to adult and there is danger in boosting transmission if a crowd of children gather at one place. As far as I know, lack of clarity in transmission of this virus produces uncertainty for planning to reopen schools.

Pritinder Kaur, Sri Guru Harkrishan Sr Sec Public School, Sec 40, Chandigarh

But a question rises here, how long we keep our children away from school environment?

To make school system functional, I suggest:

  1. Practice enhancing preparedness like preventive actions.
  2. Handling of illness and potential cases with the help of health departments.
  3. Limiting physical contact by reducing social and extra curricular activities.
  4. Adapting shift system of running school with limited classroom strength.
  5. Using innovative methods of teaching through technology which can accessible to all sections of children.
  6. Adjustments to the academic calendar, prioritizing students in grades preparing for high stake examinations and continuing with distance learning in parallel to schools.
  7. Last but not least, schools should take up hygiene campaign as mandatory.

I strongly believe before going to open schools a perfect planning and preparedness are crucial.  

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