On March 23rd began the first Lockdown, followed by a series, thus slamming shut the school gates (for five long months and counting now). Educators began raising concerns around school closure possibly doing more harm than good, in terms of lacking human-connect resulting in socio-emotional consequences. The reopening of schools can be considered a result of the drastic measures having worked in many places and the observed significant slow-down in the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
Recently, the news that Indian schools are reopening in Qatar this September (while keeping their fingers crossed) was going viral. As a concerned school-leader in India, this got my think-bell racing, with me
contemplating on the reopening of schools and its after-math across the globe.
Well, for a practical insight, I would like to share the case study of this school in Berlin that reopened recently, on a Monday. The Principal and teachers were more nervous than they had never been in last 25-30 years of teaching. For the first time since the pandemic hit, all 900 students at this Berlin school were back, bursting with excitement. The dreaded call came just two days later: On Wednesday, a girl in sixth grade was screened with the coronavirus. The class teacher hurried over to the gym where the other
31 students in her class were enjoying their first P.E.session in five months. They were dispatched to their homes — immediately. On Thursday, the whole class got tested. On Friday, all the tests came back negative. Then, on Monday, half the children were back in class. However, just as the school staff allowed themselves a sigh of relief, a seventh grader tested positive.
Therefore, while the experts and regulatory bodies are brainstorming over reopening schools in the coming days for the new academic year, health experts too maintain that it is vital for children to resume education; although this transition can hardly be expected to pan out smoothly. The schools may eventually reopen in a phased out manner, between October-December, but it would certainly be a total Roller-Coaster trip. Even if we are determined to get back to normalcy in the learning environment, would
we still be able to match up to the robust strategies as adopted by countries like Germany – The 3-point formula of fast and free testing, robust contact tracing and low community spread?
For the SOP of reopening, we would need planning at the minutest level, training and orientation of all the stakeholders, logistic preparations to maintain sanitization at every nook and corner of school, the
policy of safe distancing in the entire campus, including the classrooms, corridors and washrooms. Signage for safety would act as constant reminders – visibly on all of the surrounding walls.
Another statutory aspect would be to apprise the parents about the entire SOP and take their signed permissions or undertakings through which they would share the responsibility of health, well-being and regular schooling of their ward/s. Parents may also be a big support system in ensuring the safety and social distancing while children commute between home and school.
Students may need to stay restricted to their classrooms only, sipping water and consuming food from their personal resources, using the rest rooms sparingly and with utmost caution. Frequent use of sanitizers and constant use of masks may in itself pose to be a source of huge inconvenience and a
hindrance in the process of teaching and learning.
Besides that, many day-to-day checking procedures need to be in place – like thermal checking, physical and symptomatic observation of students and staff members. At the same time, extremely secured provisions need to be in place for quick quarantining at the mildest sign of un-wellness in children or staff members.
Amidst all these uncertainties and already staggered presence, absenteeism among children and leaves to teachers/ staff can be frequently expected (in case of illness, apprehension, or both).
In spite of all the precautions, god forbid, if even a single corona case surfaces in the school, we may need to shut again for the necessary quarantine period up to 14 days.
For a bird’s eye-view, the running of school will be divided into 2 shifts – with half of the class strength attending every alternate day, which means 3 hours of schooling, thrice a week, for every child. The blended learning, therefore, is certainly going to be the new normal. The teaching fraternity must keep revolutionizing their technological prowess and alternatives to add more and more value to this blended model of teaching.
On one side, we fear the chance of children catching COVID and on the other, we foresee long-term serious problems due to not attending school – risks of disconnect, social-phobia, disorientation, physical lethargy, irritability, insecurity and emotional trauma. We will have to weigh our risks on either side very wisely & find a mid-way to walk through the crisis and land safely off this roller coaster.