Why Indian schools need to reopen
India continues to report around 2,75,000 coronavirus cases every day. Although these statistics are alarming, they are very close to the numbers seen during the tumultuous second wave of 2021. But, the statistics are meaningless without proper context and many states have not seen an upsurge in hospitalizations and deaths, which was feared at first. of the third wave. Many states in the throes of the third wave have around 95% of their beds unoccupied. That said, many states are now easing restrictions and allowing public places and businesses to open.
Yet schools continue to be closed in most parts of the country, especially as local governments fear an upsurge in infections. Politicians continue to dither on the issue of opening schools, which negatively threatens the lives of our children. Moreover, public demand and political action are seen as absent. The psychological, social and educational costs of this shutdown are also being felt in every home across the country and there is plenty of research to underscore its long-term impact. It is in this context that it is important to bring children back to the classrooms as soon as possible.
Although children are susceptible to contracting the virus, it should be noted that they usually have mild symptoms and are less likely to become seriously ill. The proportion of children who acquire a moderate to severe infection is very negligible. There is also evidence that children who contract the virus tend to recover very quickly. They are less likely to become an infection cluster. Children also develop symptoms after or at the same time as infected adult contacts; this implies that children are not the “source” of infection and that they catch COVID-19 from adults, rather than passing it on to them. Only children who have pre-existing conditions are more at risk. In fact, a report published by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control in July last year pointed out that the benefits of keeping schools open far outweighed the risks posed by disease transmission among children. In this context, with the disruptions that have taken place and years of lost teaching time, schools cannot continue to remain closed indefinitely.
Schools should reopen as severe cases decline and vaccination coverage increases. As schools reopen, the safety of children, parents and teachers must be a priority. The ability to maintain safety protocols is important, while having an engaging dialogue with school authorities and parents. Schools will need to be better prepared for quick decisions. Undoubtedly, all decisions will have implications for children, parents, teachers and others; policymakers and educators have a tough job to do and need all the support they can get to be able to fully reopen schools. With appropriate and COVID-friendly behavior such as physical distancing, hand sanitizing, and ventilation in the classroom, the spread of the virus can be prevented. There must be a balance between keeping children safe from the virus and their right to protect their future.
And with the vaccine for children around the corner, central and state governments must work together to delegate a school reopening strategy, while consulting with all stakeholders involved. The new normal for schools will be to adapt to the realities of the pandemic. They will have to manage challenges and work with different scenarios. Going forward, states will need to provide substantial community support for those wishing to return to school. Various governments will also need to include resilience as a central part of the education system, in addition to providing resources to disadvantaged schools in rural areas.
As we have seen, online learning is a poor substitute for actual teaching. More so, in a country like ours, where there is a big digital divide, opening schools is a feasible option. Online education has led to inequality in learning. A large number of students do not have access to devices such as cell phones, desktops, and laptops for online learning. Even in cases where students have some access to these devices, there is little or no knowledge about how to use them for remote learning. Social ills like child labor, child marriages and crime have increased. It is feared that the poorest children will never return to school. It is therefore urgent to act before it is too late.
While the Covid-19 pandemic is not over, the country is better prepared than before and that’s the good side of things. Certain measures can be taken to save lives. Although lockdowns are effective short-term measures, they are very costly for a country like India. States should prioritize vaccination coverage of all schoolchildren, undertake random testing to assess transmission trends, and reopen schools soon.