Is it now wise to reopen educational institutes amid the apprehension of a possible third wave?

Image source: Zee News

By Saraf Ali |

Seventeen months into the pandemic, there is abundant evidence of the damage the prolonged closure of schools has done to the children. UNESCO has estimated that every month away from school results in a learning loss of 2 months. The last 17 months have set children back by almost 34 months. An Asian Development Bank analysis has pointed out that every year of schooling lost is equivalent to 9.7% less earning in the future.

India is amongst the few countries, where everything seems to be opening but schools continue to be closed.By the end-July 2021, around 175 countries had opened schools. In many, including France, Denmark, Portugal, and the Netherlands, most schools – especially primary schools – had remained open even at the peak of the pandemic or were closed only for a very short duration.

As coronavirus cases continue to drop across the country and consequently, public places, offices, parks are gradually reopening with safety protocols, a big question still remains there, that is often asked: Why educational institutions (most of them) are still shut? Several states including Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Lakshadweep, Puducherry, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh opened schools in the first week of August. Others such as Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh followed the suit from August 16.

While online learning being a poor substitute for in-person classes, evidence from various parts of the world shows remote schooling impacts learning negatively. A pre-pandemic study in the US had documented that students in online classes lose 0.1 to 0.4 standard deviation on standardized tests compared to students in the traditional school. Children also miss out on holistic learning which includes behavioural and social skills and physical and mental well-being. Children learn when they meet, communicate and interact with each other in person, in real-life scenarios such as schools. A study by Azim Premji Foundation amongst 16,000 students in five states in age group six to 11 found that 92% lost one specific language ability and 82% lost some mathematical ability.

While Covid cases are dropping down the scale, there are still speculations about the possibility of a third wave. With the third wave of coronavirus expected to hit India in the upcoming months, are state governments making the right move by deciding to reopen educational institutes? A student population seems to be divided on the matter.

“It has been around 18 months now that the pandemic hit globally and shut all sectors of the world, be it education, business, or social. Every unit opened one by one, with business unit in odd and even manner, with social gatherings from 10 to 50 to 100 but ironically educational institutions are still shut! and I personally always console myself thinking that it is so because the administration didn’t want young people to get effected as they are the future.
Now coming to the point, are the schools and colleges closed all over the nation? No, the schools at Uttar Pradesh, have reopned for classes 9 to 12 (August’16) , schools in Bihar have reopened for classes 1-8 from (August’16), Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat government reopened schools with 50 percent attendance from July 26. Schools were reopened from August 5 for classes 9 and 10, in Punjab Schools for 10th , 11th and 12th were reopened on July’26 later Primary schools also reopened from 2nd of August, Odisha government reopened schools from 26th of July, Karnataka government reopened schools from 23rd of August, Even Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan are reopening schools from 9th to 12th standard from Ist September as reported by ABP news Bureau on 23 August”, said Mohmod Irfan Shah, a student.
“If most of the states have already reopened, why not in Kashmir? A major question from students of Kashmir! All the business units, social gatherings, moreover there are no restrictions in public transport, all the public transport is plying normally, then why not the educational Institutes? In our UT of Jammu and Kashmir everything was shut since August 2019, and one by one everything has returned to normal life, except educational institutes which is indeed a great loss for all”, he added.

Another student, Toiba Koul, speaking about the same, said, “Well, this could probably be because of the fear that comes from the thoughts of wave 2 of Covid-19 that acquired its peak when the educational institutions were reopened earlier this year.
Where we know that it is a legit fear and to ensure that no situation like that of the early 2021 is created again, the bitter truth is that the reopening of institutions is equally important.
In the present times where everything is available is online and so is information, people find it easy and safe to teach their children at their homes in their best comforts. I called it information not education because that’s what our institutions are for. Let’s just consider a toddler who was about to begin his schooling and stuff at the begining of covid only. Nothing stopped, that child is still in the class he should be, probably knows all A to Zs he must but what he lacks is the basic exposure, he lacks the knowlege of what a school is . He might have passed a class or two but still doens’t really have his school friends , doesn’t know his teachers or maybe hasn’t yet learnt how to stay at a place where in you interact with other lads of your own age away from your parents. These basic things are to be learnt at their said age and it would result in making a child less socially active and a little unconscious about the world outside. This is the biggest and the worst flaw of the schools being shut.
If we talk about teenagers, this is the time they get matured about the stuff around or simply this is their best stage of life where they know what to do what not to. Instead, they are now locked in their homes and we’ve seen too many of the cases of drug addiction and suicides because of the frustration caused by the restrictions on moving out. For them, the sooner the institutions open, the better.”
“Besides, it is a known fact that being taught online is way more difficult to understand than offline for an average student. So this also might have created a chaos for the students preparing for competitive exams. Moreover the ones, persuing their professional courses, the ones that need a complete practical approach are Suffering the most. They might score well but what is needed for them is a practical exposure to their theoretical knowlege.
Having said that, it concludes that when almost everything is stabilizing and coming back to normal, the government must pay attention to what is needed the most, their education system because someone has truly said, “Youth are the future” and if the youth isn’t allowed to be enlightened with correct knowledge, the future seems to look quite dark”, she added.

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