By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2020-07-29 17:41:24
The West Bengal government has said that it is eyeing Teacher's Day (5th September) as the probable date when it will allow the reopening of educational institutions across the state. Schools and colleges all over India have been closed since March due to the pandemic. This has meant that students have already lost four and a half months of classroom studies. Online classes, where ever being conducted, are beset with many problems and have not been entirely successful in imparting the level of learning possible in the classroom. Further, students have been deprived of sports and physical education classes and extracurricular activities that are equally important for their overall development.
Yet, one feels that the reopening of educational institutions is not something that can be rushed. Since the West Bengal government is worried about rising coronavirus cases in the state and has been clamping bi-weekly total lockdowns from the middle of July (there are 7 lockdown days in August), it is probably not the right time to talk about reopening the education sector. Also, experts have warned that coronavirus cases in India will peak in September before the curve flattens. To be fair to the government, it has only given a probable date with the proviso that a final decision will be taken by August 31 after reviewing the situation then. It has also said that if opened, schools will be told to have classes for half the students on alternate days. That is the best way.
Educational institutions must be reopened as early as feasible but not by putting children at risk. Many schools and colleges will neither have the wherewithal nor the inclination (due to additional costs involved) to strictly follow all health advisories and will endanger the health of students. There may be laxity and it will prove costly. If students go to schools and colleges, they will interact with each other and will not always follow physical distancing norms. They will not only use the classrooms but also the toilets, libraries, labs and playgrounds. It will be practically impossible for schools to sanitize everything daily and keep an eye on the students. Also, many parents are not inclined to send their wards to schools and colleges in the absence of a vaccine or a verifiable treatment of coronavirus.
In the interim, the government should at least make a detailed inquiry about which educational institutes are conducting online classes and for how long. It has been reported that many institutes of higher learning, including institutes imparting technical education, have not been conducting regular online classes. They are the ones best placed to take education online but they have not used the opportunity afforded by the disruption to do so. Yet, when it will come to charging fees for the duration of the closure, they will not make any concessions for the students. The state government must draw up a list of such institutes and ask them the reasons for not holding online classes and depriving the students of learning for the last nearly five months.