Will Schooling be Normal Again? Frankly, No One Seems to Know
Till a vaccine is made available to all, the online school will continue deep into the next academic year & beyond.
For all intents and purposes, this academic year, unofficially, is a global wash out. The pandemic hit us right at the fag end of the 2019-20 academic year and disrupted board exams.
As it continues to ravage the nation, entrance exams took a hit and were consequently delayed. Now, nearing the winter of our discontinuing, the question I am asked most frequently is “When do you think you will resume regular classes?”
While the earnestness and genuineness of the million-dollar question certainly has merit, the answer is far from a simple one.
Quite frankly, no one knows… not the school management, not the education department and certainly not the government.
The regular circulars put out by the Ministry of Home Affairs have treaded very carefully on the subject of schools reopening. In June, UNICEF released its five pager titled “Framework for Re-opening Schools”.
It was soaked in a cautious approach, seriously asking if classroom interaction was really such an urgent need. Lessons from the attempts made in USA, Israel, Japan and Uruguay have revealed different results.
With the exception of Uruguay, all other countries have had to quickly do an about turn as the virus suddenly started to spread in the classrooms.
The advantage Uruguay had was from launching “Plan Ceibal” in 2007. Under this plan, the State provided all children in the state education system free laptops and internet connections. They also provided intense training for their teachers on how to use the system. Their transition to online schooling was seamless.
Meanwhile, here at home, some states are tinkering around with opening schools again.
Schools Purses Rendered Empty, Trust Lost
While the importance of classroom-based education can never be overlooked, the state of the pandemic in our nation certainly needs a careful look.
In a nation constantly seeking to pin the blame of our misfortunes and mishappenings on any and every soft target, unfortunately, the schooling system has been bearing the brunt for a few years now.
In Delhi, the present state government went a step ahead, calling school owners “The Mafia”.
Into the current academic year, circulars were issued prohibiting collection of any other fees apart from tuition. Schools were warned not to lay off any employee and to continue paying them their wages. No waiver of property taxes and other governmental cess was offered to schools.
However, by May itself the government claimed it was unable to pay their own teachers salaries. Schools cannot and must not be managed in such political environment. I say all this because, the most important aspect of school education itself has taken a body-blow through all this. And that element is called trust.
Quite simply put, once trust has been lost, the decision to reopen schools will be even more difficult. The safety of each child and each teacher is the only factor to keep in mind when mulling the reopening options.
Parents will have to trust that the school will protect their child to the best of their ability. A single child getting infected or a small circle of classmates contracting the novel virus could spell chaos. Much like concerned parents and children, no school management or teaching staff should have to be put in such a position of working in fear.
Going Back to School Not Easy
Perhaps a greater concern for me are the government circulars asking parents to give their consent for sending their children back to school. These have been specifically for children in grades nine and above.
While the frustration of staying locked-down at home has fatigued us all, consider the plight of the frightened mother whose son or daughter insists she sign the consent form as all his or her friends parents have done.
At this most impressionable age in their lives, where they are starting to find their feet and voice, the teenagers may blame their parents. How long they will wear those scars, one can never say.
Many parents will ultimately give in and sign, many will not. Perhaps not the best way to leave home and return to school? Parents have no assurance from the medical fraternity or the people in power when the pandemic will be over. How then are they to make such important life decisions?
With winter almost here, the number of daily cases in Delhi, as well as the rest of the country, has seen an upward spike. There are no signs of the spread abating.
While we must praise our front-line COVID warriors, we must also praise our teaching fraternity for the stellar job they are doing in teaching online. They have kept the flag flying.
They have learnt how to handle zoom and other similar platforms, prepared their lessons, adapted to new pedagogy, and with all the pressure of home, have been a source of sunshine in the lives of their students.
It is they who must be protected, as by the looks of it, till a vaccine is made available to all, the online school will continue deep into the next academic year and beyond.
(Dr Michael V Williams is the Dean at Mount Carmel Schools. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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