Principal Mohan Singh Mehra of Inter College Khirkhet, a government aided school, in Almora district, confirms that only board-appearing students are expected to attend the classes with parental consent. “The attendance at our school is less than 50% though sanitisation measures and social distancing norms are all in place. Since most of our students (234 in total) are from the local areas, they have adjusted to the cold and are in fairly good health.”
On the need to reopen schools amid the pandemic, Mehra reasons, “Online classes may help the more privileged sections, but the bulk of our students can barely afford mobile recharge packages. Poor internet connectivity further adds to their woes, making in-person classes for doubt-clearing sessions all the more urgent.”
At Shillong’s Gandhi Buniyadi Secondary School, it is the same scenario though students from classes IX-XII are coming in batches. “While schools have reopened from September-end, classes are still being conducted in the online mode,” says Rajat Karki, the school’s Physics and Math teacher. “The pandemic has exposed the weakness in our education system with its emphasis on digital and self-directed learning. Students were confused with the sudden shift to online education and even the syllabus reduction came in too late. Unless teachers explain the essential concepts, children will struggle right through the higher classes.”
At the St Xavier’s Higher Secondary School, Tura, Meghalaya, plus two students are back to their regular classes. “For the class IX and X students though, offline classes are being held on alternate days. Since learning outcomes had fallen drastically with online learning and children were feeling depressed and demotivated, we decided to reopen the school following a parent teacher’s meeting,” Sister Maria, school principal says.
“Staggered classes and increasing school time, few classes on a given day would help in tackling most of the issues,” says Shalender Sharma, director – Education & Skills Development, IPE Global. Online classes, he claims, can barely help children remain afloat which is why it is important to gradually and responsibly start opening of schools. This will not only help students recover the loss but also allow teachers to understand where children currently are in terms of learning levels. “Students would feel better being in their ‘community’ and in many cases will get their due nutrition through mid-day-meals.”
Allan Anderson, director, Chaman Bhartiya School. Bangalore, echoes similar thoughts, stressing that
“a gradual transition to normalcy is a must where children attending school for even one or two days is better than keeping them confined”.
“It is a misconception, that we need to start with senior school students, as it is much easier to define and restrict the interactions of younger students. In fact, it is more difficult to restrict the interactions of senior students, as they automatically like to do what is prohibited,” Anderson adds. He feels the government should define clear-cut guidelines, conduct random checks, but it needs to trust the school towards creating a safe ecosystem for the learners.