The Covid-19 pandemic is messing with our lives. Bad news has engulfed the planet, with medical emergencies, economic problems and mental health concerns taking society backwards each day.
The Health Ministry is attempting to comfort the masses with a regular supply of information on the increasingly improving rate of recovery. Meanwhile, reports have indicated that the Central Government is considering reopening schools in phases from September 1.
The government is thinking of initiating the process with classes 10-12 followed by classes 6-9 after a 15-day gap.
The closure of schools and colleges has had a grave impact on education in recent months. Normalcy must be restored progressively to ensure systematic academic progress. That is the logic motivating the consideration.
Besides, online education has been a selective success. Privileged students of urban private schools have benefitted from it in the absence of regular classes, and that too partially because many teachers have been struggling to understand and teach in a new format that is making unprecedented demands from them.
Unfamiliar with teaching in the online medium, many of them have still not delivered the kind of outcomes expected of them. While that is not their fault, it also means that everybody needs to get back to being inside classrooms as soon as possible.
Teachers need to be trained in online teaching alongside taking regular classes. That will be the appropriate approach as education, like every other field, operates under the changed circumstances of a redefined new normal.
Moreover, the government must find ways to ensure that the average Indian child can benefit from the online medium should the need arise someday. Making that happen in a densely populated country such as India will be an uphill task.
But the time to initiate a new beginning is not now. LocalCircles, a social media platform for communities, governance and urban daily life, surveyed on the subject. The result wasn’t astonishing. Only 33 per cent parents support the idea of reopening of schools from September 1. (Please click on this link to read about the survey in detail). The rest do not.
To start with, how many schools in India can ensure social distancing inside classrooms?
How many average-sized classrooms would they need to accommodate a class of, say, 50 students?
How many teachers will be required to address and guide that class because 50 students cannot sit in the same room unlike earlier?
Schools cannot create resources that can ensure safety for their students overnight. That means more classrooms and teachers for the same number of students.
Most Indian adults are not adhering to precautionary measures. If they are taking off their masks, chewing tobacco and spitting on the streets and chatting while standing one foot away from each other, how can one expect children not to break rules when they can?
Reopening of schools will give them opportunities to play pranks. Teachers cannot monitor the activity of each erring child like a parent with one or two kids to look after can. Of course, parents will be cautious about their children only if they are not breaking rules in the first place. But that issue must be addressed some other day.
The United States and Israel experimented with the idea of reopening schools and failed miserably. An Indian experiment will also invite the certainty of countless children getting infected and carrying it back home.
We know what will follow.