Was an interesting question raised by a fellow educator in a webinar on Saturday about school opening in India and why as a country, we ‘restricted’ the urge to open with the ‘start-again’ procedures post lockdown when the rest of the world seemed to operationalise much earlier. By August/September many schools world over were open – all grades. France, one of the first countries decided to open their campus with all social distancing norms and even in the UK despite a nation wide lockdown and WFH for most corporates, schools continue to be functional as normal. Those Down Under seem to have ‘normalised’ with their restricted access and control of numbers but for many parts of the world and in our country, there are mixed reactions to school opening. What’s difficult for Indian educators is that trends world-wide have shown a spike in numbers with school opening, and therefore the need to learn from these experiences as opposed to ‘adding to the problem’ is the approach adopted. Mind you, India like other South East Countries announced staggered opening after a careful evaluation of those trends, starting with the older students.
With the Centre allowing States to welcome high school students to the campus, some States have exercised caution – case to point Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have declared school closure till March 31st, 2020. In fact Maharashtra was all set to open in November but post Diwali, like Gujarat and Rajasthan decided that students must continue on-line. Some other schools in other parts of the country have opened to 40 to 60 percent attendance for 9 to 12th graders and in some, there were simply no takers with parents opting out for the on-line version itself. Again, trends, reports and experiences does not evoke confidence to risk this age group and expose teachers and elders to a potential surge.
While the festive times have ‘lifted’ spirits for sure since Ganpati, Navratri, Diwali, Thanksgiving and now with Xmas round the corner, the anticipation of a ‘break’ from making that decision for 2020 seems to be the dominant sentiment. Perhaps, there’s hope that with more research and reports, parents will have a sense of direction as far as trends in the country go with the virus, and for most managements, a nod from State will also be a key.
Weighing the pros and cons, it must be said that everyone, be it regulatory authorities or health officials have repeatedly reminded everyone that we are yet to experience a few more months to have more information about the spread of the virus, the level of danger and therefore social distancing and masks with a conscious effort with sanitation protocols remains the key. We are not out of the woods yet in India. Restricted travel has been advised but for various economic and financial reasons, another lockdown unless the numbers are staggering as they are in US and Europe will not see us going into a complete lockdown yet.
States will eventually guide the local governing wards to sanction permission for schools to open up but the key question is will parents send students and to what extent is the management held responsible despite all measures and protocols executed.
For all the resistance to on-line learning, the teachers and students and more importantly, parents have embraced it, showing commitment and discipline and with schools managing their assessments in a seamless manner, the mood really is that the ‘alternative’ which is remote learning is an option they would like to go along with as managements also have to consider teacher fatigue to manage both online and in campus schooling (since parental consent is required to send students to school), sanitation costs and also health and safety of all on campus, should they decide to come. Many ifs and buts and the ‘alternative’ has provided parents an opportunity to skill up, accept and also build their own capacity to ensure that the learning continues for their children at home.
The next few weeks will be interesting as national and international schools closely monitor trends, are in touch with their respective third party auditors for sanitation checks, and deep conversations with consultants will prove the next few weeks will be decisive. While national boards are considering internal evaluation including project based assessments at least upto Middle School, international boards are keen to continue with written exams for March/May as of now. Some have switched to online assessments with ease for international schools as well, and the news is promising that it has worked for most parts.
Constant communication, regular updates closely working with cohorts of parent representatives will be a key step for Managements including the local governing authorities. Demographically with our diversity, we may have different States adopting different measures and that is something as a nation we will get used to. Uniformity is not a luxury we can hope for at the moment, but those that have healthy trends must take as a lead.
For the moment, online/remote learning is working and will continue to be the go-to strategy for most. Next few weeks will decide the way 2021 shapes up for all of us in terms of next steps with K-12 students.