The pandemic resulted in school closures across the country. Children were then educated using the digital medium, however, it failed to generate positive outcomes like classroom learning. Therefore, the government should now focus on the gradual and cautious reopening of schools in the country.
- Schools have remained closed since March 2020 in order to protect the children from the pandemic.
- There has been sporadic opening of schools for older children, but the government hasn’t shown any willingness to reopen for the remaining lot.
Need to reopen the schools:
- First, there are multiple issues with virtual learning:
- It has reduced the “collaborative magic of the classroom into little more than an instructional video”.
- Teachers try their best, but have limited ability to teach fundamental concepts and enforce discipline; young students have limited ability to learn.
- Concerns around screen-time have reduced school hours by one-third for our young children.
- More importantly, behavioral changes such as impatience and aggression are emerging. Older children are developing depression.
- The physical development of children is hindered as they are unable to play sports.
- Second, there is a digital infrastructure deficit across the country. According to Save the Children, during the first wave in 2020, three out of every four children had no internet access and four out of five children reported obstacles to learning.
- Third, many parents can’t assist their children given their lack of digital literacy.
- Fourth, many children have been deprived of mid-day meals, thereby increasing the burden on already struggling families. There are reports of children being forced into child labour and marriage as well.
- Fifth, the rationale behind school closure was safety, but the opening of other indoor spaces has already exposed the children to the virus. Even if children stay home, they are exposed if adults go out.
- Lastly, according to the Asian Development Bank, every year of schooling lost causes a 9.7% reduction in potential earnings.
- The estimated present value of learning losses due to prolonged school closures in developing Asia (including India) is $1.25 trillion or 5.4 per cent of the region’s 2020 GDP.
- The Lancet COVID-19 Commission India Task Force has recently recommended reopening of schools with adequate safeguards as Covid-19 cases decrease. Safety of children must be balanced with physical and mental development.
- Further, the Indian Academy of Paediatrics stated that it was highly unlikely that the third wave will predominantly or exclusively affect children.
- The focus should be placed on rapid vaccination of school staff, as widespread vaccination of adults helps protect unvaccinated children.
- According to a recent Israeli study, for every 20 % increase in the share of vaccinated (16-50 years), the share of unvaccinated under 16 years who tested Covid positive decreased by half.
- Our elected leadership must consult experts to formulate a roadmap for safe reopening of schools. For instance, a hybrid model could be adopted for restoring connections between teachers and students and improving the efficacy of virtual classes.
- Schools will need to implement measures such as sanitisation, frequent testing, ventilation, reduction in class sizes and staggered drop-off and pick-up.
The above will involve considerable effort and cost, and it may entail start-stop openings and closures. However, with appropriate safeguards, this will reinstate children and teachers in the classroom and parents in the workforce.