Is there still time to reopen Indian schools?

Amir Ullah Khan and Netheena Mathews

The Indian government has reportedly made plans for a gradual reopening of schools between September 1 and November 14, they will likely leave the final decision to state governments. The broad operational guidelines for reopening schools are expected to be notified as part of the latest set of ‘unlocking’ rules. Several states such as Assam, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Goa are reportedly considering reopening schools in September itself. According to a survey conducted by local circles, only 33% of parents said they were comfortable sending their wards to school in September. Although online courses are not a good enough substitute, especially in light of the digital divide that exists in the country, only one in three Indian schools have basic access to the necessities of hand washing and washing. sanitation in schools, a recent UNICEF-WHO said.

Can children contract and transmit COVID-19?

Most studies conducted in light of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic indicate that children play a significant role in the spread of respiratory disease. Although they may have milder symptoms, children are still at risk of infecting the elderly at home and spreading the virus between them. Several experts believe that the benefits of closing schools may outweigh their reopening until a vaccine is in sight; at least with regard to its effects on the population as a whole.

This puts children at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 in schools. If rural schools are experiencing epidemics, nearby health facilities may not have the resources to deal with a sudden increase in hospitalizations related to COVID-19. However, the nutritional needs of 115 million Indian children were uncertain as the lockdown affected the world’s largest meal program – the Indian School Lunch Program.

How school closures affected children

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the biggest disruption in education of an entire generation with more than 1.6 billion children in more than 190 countries affected by school closures at the height of the shutdown, said UNICEF said. The loss of face-to-face teaching is expected to lead to significant learning deficits, especially in countries with low educational gains. Interactions with peers are also vital for a child’s overall development. Child abuse, early marriage, child labor and other forms of exploitation are also on the rise. People living in countries affected by instability and crises, migrants, refugees, minorities, children with disabilities and children in institutions are the most affected by school closures. In addition, a large number of children in developing countries depend on their school meal programs for their nutritional and immunization needs.

Schools reopen to the world

Emboldened by its early victory in the fight against disease, Israel was one of the first countries in the world to reopen schools with social distancing standards and mask mandates in place. It quickly turned into disaster in a record-breaking heat wave that made masks uncomfortable in Jerusalem’s already overcrowded classrooms. Schools have become epicenters of disease transmission. Meanwhile, in the United States, where President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for schools to reopen over false claims that children are immune to the virus, more than 97,000 children have tested positive over the years. last two weeks of July only. Kenya has delayed the reopening of schools until 2021, with students having to repeat the year, a move that risks worsening educational inequalities.

In Sweden, schools have not closed and parents have even been threatened with sanctions for keeping their wards out of classrooms. Masks and social distancing standards weren’t mandatory, but students over 16 had their classes online. Until the end of the school year, Sweden had not reported a significant increase in the number of cases among children compared to neighboring Finland which kept schools closed throughout this period. The success of this model cannot be evaluated because a lack of sufficient data has prevented studies on the impact of in-person classrooms on disease transmission among teachers and students’ family members. Denmark and Norway reopened schools in April gradually until the end of the school year. Classes for the new academic year begin this week as cases peak in those countries.

Uruguay’s “phased approach” deserves praise. The country aimed to bring children from remote areas and other vulnerable groups who had difficulty accessing online courses to school first. Since rural schools had fewer students, standards of social distancing were easier to maintain. This was then followed by the resumption of in-person teaching for high school students, students from non-urban areas and finally students from schools in the capital. Students are encouraged to attend in-person and alternate online classes to keep their physical numbers low in classrooms. China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam have all imposed strict daily temperature checks, hand washing, physical distancing, disinfection and mask wearing in schools. Closer to home, Sri Lanka has just reopened its schools, as the island country has not reported any cases of community transmission since April 30.

Way forward

In addition to the requirement to wear a mask, daily temperature checks, physical distancing and reduced strength for in-person instruction in schools, mitigation efforts during the pandemic must include the provision of a access to basic sanitation facilities such as soap, water, clean toilets and potable water. The needs of students with disabilities should also be given special attention in this regard. More than 43% of schools and 818 million students globally did not have access to basic handwashing items like soap and water in 2019. The government must invest in the construction of sinks and toilets, as well as supplying thermal scanners, hand sanitizers and soap to schools. To prevent students from being exposed to repeated waves of Covid-19, the government must ensure that civic authorities and health workers seriously work on large-scale testing of symptomatic individuals, contact tracing and isolation and continued treatment of those diagnosed. people.

Amir Ullah Khan and Netheena Mathews are researchers at the Center for Development Policy and Practice, Hyderabad.

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