The Covid-19 pandemic, which began with an outbreak of the Coronavirus in the city of Wuhan in China, ravaged the entire world throughout the year 2020. In India, the lockdown began with a Janta Curfew on the 22nd of March 2020, when all schools, colleges, offices, and workplaces were shut down for an indefinite period.
The widespread pandemic resulting in nationwide lockdown had significant implications on various sectors of the economy, with the education sector being among the ones most affected. The board exams for all the students of grade 10th and 12th were postponed “till further notice” starting from 19th March 2020, and all schools and colleges were shut down starting from 23rd March 2020. Since then, “When will schools reopen?” has been one of the questions discussed most often.
When the first wave of the pandemic simmered down during the first week of May, there were talks about reopening schools, because it was found that more than 90% of students reported feeling upset because of having to stay at home continuously for more than two months. However, when the second wave of pandemic hit most of the countries, starting with France where 70 cases of Covid were reported from schools days after the Government loosened restrictions, the talks died down.
After carefully evaluating the Covid situation in the country, the government of India allowed schools to reopen in phases from October 2020, and accorded full authority to the state governments to make decisions regarding the same. Certain state governments have decided to reopen the schools for high school students, while most state governments believe that it is not safe for schools to reopen yet.
Umaima Ali, a grade 11 eleven student of Nasr High School, Hyderabad, has now been attending online classes for about 9 months. When asked what she feels about schools reopening, she said, “Personally, I don’t think schools should reopen. Even though the coronavirus curve is slowly flattening and most children are tired of staying at home, it is not safe for us and the teachers. Masks are not very comfortable and to wear them for so many hours at a stretch is not easy. When it comes to academics, yes, it will be easier with physical lectures and classes but at what cost? The least school authorities can do is give the parents and children an option which gives us the liberty to decide whether we are comfortable coming to school or not.”
Bangalore was among the states that decided to reopen schools for high school students from the 19th of January 2020. While students are happy to be able to finally go back to school, they are also anxious about the spread of the virus. Pragnya Dhar, a grade 12 student of Royale Concorde International School, Bangalore has to attend school to take part in lab classes.
“Since I’m in class 12, I will have to go to school exclusively for attending lab classes. I personally don’t mind it because it would be a good change of place for me. Online classes haven’t helped me much because there are a lot of things to distract you and nobody is really there to monitor you.
Schools should take precautions and call students in batches so that it doesn’t get crowded. The students, too, have to be careful and make sure they sanitize, use a mask, and maintain social distancing.”
Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Punjab, Haryana, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Sikkim are the other states that have decided to reopen schools.
Meanwhile, apprehensions are running high regarding the approaching board exams for students of Grade 10 and 12.
CBSE has declared that Board exams for all students of classes 10 and 12 will be conducted offline in pen and paper, and will start from the 4th of May 2021.
ICSE has also declared that Board exams will be conducted offline, and have laid down a requirement of at least two months of learning in a physical classroom before the student can take the board examinations.
Soumyajit Pakhira, a Class X student from Kolkata who will be giving ICSE Board exams this year, feels that asking students to go back to school at this moment is like walking on eggshells. “We have been studying at home and adapting to the ‘new normal’ for a very long time, and hence I feel that getting used to the ‘old normal’ might take some time. Also, we already feel so stressed because of our board exams, there is no guarantee that the students will maintain proper social distancing once they meet their friends. But I do believe that interacting with our teachers physically will help us clear our doubts better.”
While the students still have mixed feelings regarding schools reopening, parents seem to have reached a consensus.
A survey found that 23% of Indian parents are willing to send their children to school in January itself. 69% of parents are ready to send their children to school by April, provided the vaccine is available by then.
For Kakoli Ghosh, who works as a domestic help in Kolkata, her son’s online classes mean disruption of her daily routine. “When my son’s school started Online classes suddenly in December 2020 after almost a year-long break, it was very difficult for me to adapt to the new technology and adjust my daily routine. I wish schools would reopen, following all precautions, so that everything could go back to normal,” said Kakoli.
However, “Vaccines are not the one-stop solution to Covid 19,” experts and healthcare professionals have said, “Vaccines can prevent the virus from infecting you, but they cannot prevent the virus from passing on to someone else from you through various agents. Vaccines are not a replacement for masks.”
On the other hand, some parents are apprehensive about sending their wards to school amid a worldwide pandemic.
“Schools should not open right now. They should only open after the vaccination process is successful and one gets the feeling that the children would be completely safe. Online teaching should continue for now,” said a lady who has a daughter studying in Grade 11 in Gurgaon. Schools in Gurgaon have opened in December, and she feels anxious about the safety of her child.
Schools reopening would mean a lot of workload on the teachers. It is expected to be a long time before schools reopen fully and everything goes back to normal, and in the meantime, schools will have to adopt the “hybrid” mode of teaching, where students who come to school will be taught in classrooms, while students who do not get permission from their parents to attend classes physically will have to be taught online. Teachers have also expressed concerns regarding the possibility of infection during the travel to and from school.
“We have seen previously that various countries had reopened schools, but they had to close down soon after because of the high rate of infection. We do have vaccinations available for COVID 19 but predicting anything concerning the opening of schools is difficult. Keeping in mind the infrastructures in schools, what I feel is that schools should be opened only after universal vaccination of all the students, faculties, and other staff members,” said Fatma Jabeen, Legal Studies teacher at Mahadevi Birla World Academy, Kolkata.
For college students, especially the freshmen, not being able to attend classes physically means missing out on a very important experience.
“A few aspirations about college needed to be revisited and rethought. A year ago, the thought of attending online classes would’ve been unfathomable. But here we are, spending most of our hours before screens. Gradually we’re cozying up to it. Meeting classmates and forming friendships in person would’ve been a very different experience than the one we’re having right now. So I’d say there have been quite some drastic alterations in how we pictured college life would be,” said Amrita Choudhuri, a first-year student at Gokhale Memorial Girls’ College.
Even though the Government allowed the reopening of schools and higher educational institutions in phases from October 25, colleges in West Bengal are not scheduled to reopen before February 2021.
The pandemic and lockdown experience has been very different for the varied regions of the country. It is thus very evident that the process of transitioning to the pre-Covid situation would also be very different for different regions. While schools can be seen reopening in the smaller states, most of the metropolitan cities, with higher population density, are still deliberating on the situation and making a decision only after proper evaluation seems to be the best way to move forward.
Mahadevi Birla World Academy, Class XI