We’ve heard from the Ministry of Home Affairs clearing the path to commence K-12 in the physical world post October 15th, 2020 and with that single announcement created a flutter given that different States would use their discretion and understanding of their numbers or cases, medical capabilities to decide if and when they would create standard operating procedures directing school managements to commence operations. Imagine the pressure on the local municipal bodies to verify all procedures and grant clearances and the ‘rush’ to get this done? What if in the process there is super spreading?
This in the backdrop of rising numbers, US and UK extending their lockdown for almost six months, and WHO directives about a second wave. While many educators continue to decode “structure” and “age-criteria” for schools in the Brick n Mortar world with the NEP announcement, the current challenge lies with States deciding whether it is safe for children to return to schools. I would assume this puts a lot of pressure and onus on school owners, as they will have to get undertakings, create infrastructure, orient children and essentially focus heavily on administrative operations including well being of teachers and other team members, not to mention transport woes and sanitation protocols. Those without playgrounds or ventilation face the uphill task given what we know about assembling in closed, air-conditioned spaces without proper ventilation (many schools are single storey buildings). To mobilise this mammoth operation requires financial investment and for schools that have suffered huge losses on account of non-payment of fees, this will be tricky. Assuming schools manage this within 2-3 weeks of States sanctioning permissions, how many parents will send children to school?
The directive is also clear, parents will not be obligated to send children and on-line teaching-learning must continue, in that case how do school managements manage “dual” programs, monitoring children in school and at home, and spare a real thought about teachers that will be expected to personalise for those on-line and then in school (extending their hours) and they still have to manage their own children and their own homes? There’s been tremendous effort, but this kind of expectation is unreal! Residential schools might be the easier route then, given children and teachers will be in a ‘bio-bubble’ post all quarantine measures and perhaps normalise quicker!
Parents need to be oriented about the challenges of managing daily routines should schools re-open and also that the world will not just go back to normal. In-door activities will still be restricted, outdoor will be encouraged, perhaps schools may insist on 3 day testing cycles for all, to ensure safety and security of all concerned. Worry is, the hurry to open all schools may contribute to a rising number, and are our cities equipped with enough medical facilities to deal with this?
I do not have all the answers to these questions, and fellow educators are in discussion with government officials, outsourced agencies that are conducting feasibility studies of mobilising, parent bodies and anyone who can guide them about the next step. Point is, no one can take that decisive decision and for me, schools must fulfil a certain criteria certified by a third party agency that has the ability to create SOPs, and perhaps bring children in small cohorts with complete transparency on part of parents via some app to enable them to register movements, and medical information that is updated real time. Their access to medical facilities, and organisation of infrastructure for school staff to live on campus like they do in hospitals, and breaks in between would mean that “bio-bubbles” will need to be created with so many families in one school, this is practically impossible!
Just a fleeting thought – would it not be possible to wait out these months, and consider a start in December for us to track developments and get ready with detailed preparation? Let’s plan well in advance, build capacities and capabilities to ensure that we do not put our children, the teachers and their respective families at risk.
Lots to think about and the next few weeks will feature deep conversations and research pulling in data from what other countries have experienced, what worked and what did not! Tricky months ahead and many more conversations and discussions, and I would be surprised if this is a sweeping sanction or decision. Schools will have to understand their own limitations and restrictions and be sensible about start dates even if the States are to allow it!
God knows we want to normalise, planning well would be the key.