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Pandemic resilience

Schools across the country are going to witness the first major offline activities in prevailing pandemic situation

COVID

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  10 Sep 2020 4:57 AM GMT

Schools across the country are going to witness the first major offline activities in prevailing pandemic situation when they will reopen on September 21 for students of Class IX to XII. The Central government's move will test the COVID-19 pandemic resilience of the States like Assam where hospital beds are now almost saturated with positive patients. As large number of class XI and XII student study in colleges in Assam, this will require reopening of the colleges along with the schools. The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for reopening of the schools can be the basis for the Assam government to conduct a health safety audit during the intervening period to assess if schools and colleges are well equipped to strictly adhere to it. Even though the attendance in the classes will be on voluntary basis and will require written consent from parents and guardians, career goals of students being linked with these classes, a near normal attendance cannot be ruled out. Rural areas in the state with poor internet access are likely to witness more rush of students for offline classes when the schools and colleges reopen. Large number of students have remained deprived from online classes being run by educational institutions for lack of access to internet due to economic reasons or connectivity issues. Arranging the visits of the students to schools and colleges for taking guidance of teachers in a staggered manner, as laid down in the SOP, will be crucial to avoid attendance of normal classroom level. The SOP states that online and distance learning shall continue to be permitted and encouraged. Running the offline and online classes simultaneously is easier said than done and will require meticulous planning. A prior feedback from students and parents will be useful for the school and college authorities to make a correct assessment of the requirement of classes in both the modes and plan arrangement accordingly. The Health Ministry has laid emphasis on staggering of classroom guidance activities with separate timing slots, to allow for adequate physical distancing and disinfection of classroom premises. This is also essential for making the seating arrangements inside the classroom in a manner that mandatory physical distance of six feet can be maintained throughout the teacher-student interaction. The SOP by stating that "physical distancing of at least 6 feet to be followed as far as feasible" leaves room for schools and colleges not having enough spaces to take advantage of the wordings. Any relaxation in maintenance of physical distance will jeopardise the health of students, teachers, and staff. Onus will lie on the state and central governments to ensure that no educational institutions flout the physical distance norms in the pretext of not having adequate space. The Ministry of Health's necessary amendment in the SOP will bring more clarity. The State Government can also issue its own additional SOP for strict adherence to physical distance of six feet as many private schools and colleges in the state do not have adequate space in the classrooms and in the campus. The SOP includes detailed advisory on educational institutions ensuring back-up stock of personal protection equipment like face covers/ mask, hand sanitizers for making them available to teachers and employees, thermal guns, alcohol wipes, disposable paper towels, soap etc. The State government will have to put in place an effective monitoring mechanism to ensure that management of the educational institutions comply with these norms and do not pass it on to teachers and employees. Uploading photographs of available protection equipment and other supplies onto a dedicated portal of the education department will ensure an effective monitoring and help build confidence among teachers and employees about safety at their workplaces. Protocols for isolation of student, teacher, or employee in case of developing symptom of cough, fever or difficulty in breathing while attending the educational institution and for providing immediate healthcare have been laid down in the SOP. This will require the school and college authorities across the state to stay updated on the availability of medical help in the nearest hospital/clinic and alternative public healthcare centres on a daily basis. A separate helpline number for educational institutions in the state will be quite useful. Reopening of the schools and colleges are important to ensure that students do not have to lose academic year and to ensure that digital divide does not continue to put some students at disadvantageous situation for long. At the same time protecting students from COVID-19 infection and keeping them healthy is of paramount importance not just to their parents but for the entire society. The rising rate of COVID-19 positive cases in the state is daunting, but fear and paranoia cannot be allowed to rule. Building resilience to fight pandemics is the only way forward.

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