Can India Go Back to School Now? What Parents & Principals Think

The Centre has allowed schools to partially reopen from 21 September for Classes 9-12 with consent from parents. 

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Education
3 min read

Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas

The Centre has allowed schools to reopen partially for students from Classes 9 to 12 in a staggered manner from 21 September 2020, and has issued a detailed set of guidelines, which the institutions must follow.

While it has been left for parents to decide if they want to send their wards to schools for guidance from teachers, the question that remains is – can India go back to school, just yet?

Is it safe to send children back to school?

Colonel Amit Bathla (Retd), a parent who had filed a petition against conduct of CBSE exams in the Supreme Court, says that when schools were shut in March, the number of coronavirus cases in India was around 1,000.

He asks how schools can be reopened in September, when cases are rising by almost a lakh everyday, taking India’s tally to over 40 lakh.

“If they (a child) have got the infection, they may have the capacity to fight it back, but if they pass on the infection to their family, seven to eight other people will get infected.”
Colonel Amit Bathla (Retd)

If the decision is left to parents, where’s the problem?

Aprajita Gautam, President of Delhi Parent’s Association, fears that partial reopening of schools will force parents who have lost their jobs or suffered economic loss to pay annual and developmental charges, when they don’t even have money left for tuition fees.

“Following this order, schools will say they are opening with 50 percent capacity and will ask parents for operational charges through annual and developmental fee irrespective of whether they send their children to schools or not,” she says.

In states like Delhi, schools can only bill parents for tuition fees till they remain shut for students. This means that they cannot charge development or annual charges until students return to schools.

Can schools survive on tuition fees alone?

Ameeta Mulla Wattal, Principal of Springdales School in Delhi’s Pusa Road, asks if schools will “stay shut for two years or four years.” Maintaining that it is impossible to tell when they can open for sure, Wattal says that parents will have to cooperate with schools to ensure they are opened gradually, following all precautions.

She says that tuition fees can only take care of salaries to a certain extent and not provide for other expenses that a school meets through annual and developmental charges.

“Our auxiliary staff, guards, peons, and drivers come to school. We can’t keep buses stagnant as they would go out of service. We must maintain buses, so where will we get the money from? These services are paid for from the development and annual charges. Tuition fee only takes care of teachers’ salaries, that too, to a certain extent only.”
Ameeta Mulla Wattal, Principal, Springdales School, Pusa Road

What about government school students?

According to an Oxfam India survey, over 80 percent of children in government schools across Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh did not receive any education since the lockdown was announced. In private schools, around 40 percent could not access online education due to lack of devices or internet connectivity.

Delhi government school teacher Sant Ram says that many “students don't have
phones with them because the device stays with their parents who may go to offices or sell vegetables on the cart or go be at the shop.”

According to him, while some cannot afford data connections, those who do face bandwidth and connectivity issues. 

As a result, “students are suffering from inferiority complex and think that they are falling behind in education,” he says.

Are there any solutions?

Colonel Amit Bathla (Retd): “The honourable prime minister has given a call for
Atmanirbhar Bharat, let's us manufacture low-cost devices which can be funded by the government and big players in the digital space – UNICEF, UNESCO CSR activities – let us look out of the box, you know? We can start with one district in every state and see
how we have this moving up and spreading to different areas.”

Sant Ram, Delhi Govt School Teacher: “Children who cannot access digital education can come to schools in groups of five or come just two to three days in a week. This way they will not suffer academic loss.”

Sam Pitroda, Technocrat & Former Advisor to Ex-PM Dr Manmohan Singh: “On one hand, the corona crisis is expanding, and on the other hand, children need education. We are not prepared to provide digital education, so it's better to bite the bullet and say ‘moratorium for a year’.”

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