Runa Mukherjee Parikh (Ahmedabad)
With the number of covid positive cases and fatalities in Gujarat falling from a peak of 97,894 and 1,132 on September 16, 2020 to 16,577 and 120 on February 25, 2021, the state government has permitted schools across the state to reopen in a phased manner.
On January 11, class X and XII students who will write their board exams in May 2021 were permitted to attend in-school classes, subject to parental consent. On February 1, class IX and XII students started conventional classes. And on February 18, class VI-VIII children of private and government schools were given the option of returning to school campuses.
With schools obliged to follow strict SoPs (standard operating procedures) prescribed by the Central government relating to masking, sanitisation of premises, social distancing and the option of alternate day schooling, this phased schools reopening programme is proceeding smoothly. “With the Covid situation well-managed by the state government, the number of children returning to in-school classes is rising steadily from 35 percent on January 11 to 84 percent in the week ending February 25,” says Dr. Vinod R. Rao, secretary, education (primary and secondary) of the state government.
But the risk of children or teachers contracting the Coronavirus is not quite ruled out until the anti-virus vaccine being rolled out has attained critical mass. Therefore, the state government has issued strict guidelines for school managements to follow. Under the guidelines written permission is required from parents for children to resume in-school classes. “Also, schools are constantly being monitored by education inspectors, assistant education inspectors and district-level officials to ensure they adhere to safety protocols,” says Rao.
On their part, private school managements, especially those that have reputations to lose, are also pulling out all stops to ensure that the prescribed SoPs are strictly implemented. “The closure of a school due to management negligence could result in withdrawal of NoC (no objection certificate) among other issues. Therefore, we not only ensure that we get consent letters from parents but have discontinued in-school classes of primary children who may not be able to fully understand the importance of masking, social distancing and safety protocols. Their education will be continued in the online mode until the end of the current academic year,” says Nashy Chauhan, director of the Ahmedabad-based Anand Niketan Group of schools in Sughad and Satellite with 3,490 children on their muster rolls.
Meanwhile, the silver lining of the pandemic cloud for private school managements is that teachers have acquired valuable online teaching skills during the past ten months. As a result, several private schools completed the syllabus of the current year and are likely to continue with the blended learning model well into the next academic year. “We are determined to make up for learning loss of the past ten months through accelerated remedial education,” says Rao.
Meanwhile, the discovery of the anti-Covid vaccine and rollout of the government’s vaccination drive — over 4.8 lakh citizens have taken their first jab — school managements are cautiously optimistic. “Only when the vaccination drive gets going in right earnest will normal schooling begin in July-August,” predicts Chauhan.