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School Closures Over Delhi Pollution a Yearly Event: Is It a Long-Term Solution?

Amid 'severe' levels of air pollution, an early winter break has been called for Delhi schools starting 9 November.

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Education
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"Mumma, can I please go out and play?"

40-year-old Shilpi Batta has had to deal with this question from her 10-year-old twin daughters – Sohni and Suhani – for the past one week.

Batta, a teacher at Modern Public School, Shalimar Bagh, has not only cut the outdoor playtime of her children but also has to ensure that they, students of Class 6, attend online classes regularly.

Sohni and Suhani are among thousands of school children studying in private and government schools across Delhi-NCR whose schedules have been disturbed due to the rise in air pollution in the city.

"It is extremely difficult to manage children when schools are shut, even if online classes are scheduled. While we want to protect our kids and ensure they don't go out, this can't be a solution every year," Batta said.

In view of 'severe' levels of air pollution witnessed in the national capital over the last week, the Delhi government on Wednesday, 8 November, advanced winter break for all schools from 9 to 18 November.

The winter break for the session 2023-24, which is usually scheduled between December and January has now been advanced, the Directorate of Education (DoE) stated in an order accessed by The Quint.

The announcement comes nearly four days after the Delhi government asked all schools to remain shut until 10 November for all classes, except Class 11 and 12. But this is not just a 2023 occurrence.

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'Classes Shut Even Before Diwali is Concerning'

School closures because of pollution levels have been an annual occurrence in the national capital since 2016 – when Delhi schools shut for three days over pollution for the first time.

In 2015, the Delhi government had considered a proposal to shut down schools during the trial period of odd-even vehicle formula from 1 to 15 January.

In 2021, Delhi experienced its longest ‘air pollution closure’ for close to 12 days. In 2022, the schools in Delhi-NCR were shut for over seven days.

Ameeta Mulla Wattal, Chairperson and Executive Director Education, Innovations and Training DLF Foundation Schools and Scholarship Programme, told The Quint that school closures "have now become an annual, consistent phenomenon."

"If we look at data, the pollution levels have only increased over the years. Simultaneously, the number of days schools are shut due to air pollution has been increasing. Usually, schools are shut only post Diwali as pollution increases then. But this year, classes have been disrupted almost 10 days prior to Diwali. That is extremely concerning,"
Aparajita Gautam, Delhi Parents' Association President, told The Quint

"On one hand this is a welcome step because students were suffering due to the toxic air, and on the other, parents are frustrated because we witness this situation every year in Delhi. How long will the government keep shutting schools for pollution? This just shows that they have failed to implement anti-pollution norms," Gautam said.

'Worried About How Prolonged Closure Will Impact Them in the Long-Run'

When asked on the effects of abrupt closures of schools, Alka Kapur, Principal of Modern Public School, Shalimar Bagh said, "The student becomes clueless whether they have school tomorrow or not. From the side of the management, it becomes difficult as we need to prioritise the health of our students and teachers, but also look at how a prolonged closure will impact them in the long-run."

Meanwhile, teachers also expressed the difficulty in managing the syllabus in online classes.

"Every syllabus is planned for offline classes. Once we have to go online, then the concepts don't become that clear for the students. So invariably, we will have to reteach certain chapters in-person. To add on, we get information about school closures in the last minute, which means many students have left their books in school. So when we teach online, they don't understand what we are saying. Online classes are definitely not the solution."
A private school teacher in Noida who did not wish to be named
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'Not Only Studies, But Even Day-To-Day Activities Are Affected': Parents

At least three parents The Quint spoke to shared their concerns about the effect of these abrupt breaks in learning and daily routines on children.

Sapna Chachru, a mother of 15-year-old Monishaa, who is studying at a private school in Delhi, believed that online classes makes children lazy and disinterested.

"When the child goes to school, parents are relaxed that he/she are concentrating. But when a child is at home and the parents are working, it becomes all the more difficult to keep a check on the child to see whether he/she is actually studying," Chachru told The Quint.

Parents also felt that it was difficult to make the children understand as to why they have been kept at home for a long-period of time.

"While my daughters understand the seriousness of pollution, they too are kids. Sometimes they get restless at home. They want to step out, they want us to play with them. They want to be entertained. When we don't have the time, we have to give them gadgets, which ultimately leads to screen addiction," Shilpi Batta said.
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'Need To Design School Calendars Around Pollution'

While the parents, teachers, principals and experts The Quint spoke to said that closure of schools was better due to health-related reasons, they said that this was not a long-term solution.

"It's not like this a once-in-a-blue-moon problem. It's been happening continuously for the last six-seven years. So I think some kind of planning should be done, where holidays should be worked around this period. It is high time we rework our school calendars to ensure that sports day, annual day and carnivals are not scheduled in the months of October, November, December," said Wattal.

"If the government is not able to control the pollution, they should be able to modify the vacation weeks for children. That way, we also plan our months in advance. Teachers can plan what they teach online and offline based on the difficulty level," added Kapur.

Meanwhile, DPA president Aparajitha Gautam believed that the government should introduce a 'pollution vacation' in the yearly holiday calendar for students.

"The government should introduce 'pollution vacation' in the yearly holiday calendar from now on. This will depend on the pollution level, but at least we will be prepared. Parents can plan better," she said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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