By Shyam Ganguli
The decision of countries to shut down schools was one of the first instinctive responses as COVID19 began scything through countries across the globe. More than 90% of the world’s learners are stuck at home due to closure of schools in about 190 countries.
As the countries are in the process of easing lockdowns, there is far less consensus on when and how to reopen schools. There is lot of brainstorming underway as to what type of arrangements will work with children. Kids are kids, they will play, mingle and trade tiffins.
Educators and parents are worried about possible setbacks for children caused by extended school closure, especially those who don’t have access to online education.
A huge range of policies are hitting the headlines across the world. Some countries have shut schools for an indefinite period and some are moving to reopen. No European country has made it compulsory for parents to send their children to school, but the decision to reopen schools was met with resistance. In Denmark, the schools have reopened but with stringent guidelines like compulsory social distancing. The city of Melbourne started school for senior students from 27 May and will operate for little ones from 7 June. In Italy, complete reopening is expected by September. In France and Germany, schools have started opening in phases. Similarly, countries like Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, China, Russia, etc., have either opened partially or are in the process of opening in the near future. In Taiwan, differentiated school closure rules were executed at the national level. If one teacher or student is affected, they are quarantined for 14 days at home. If two or more students or teachers have a confirmed infection, the school is closed. And if a third of schools in a district or city have to take this measure, then all the schools in a district have to take this measure, then all schools in the area are closed too.
The Indian Government also feels very strongly that school administrations will have to carry out various tasks such as defining specific roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders, clear cut specifications of safety protocols and social distancing.
Life, as we see, has changed, but what kind of ‘New Normal’ can we expect hereafter?
Taking into account health and safety concerns of children, we will be in a situation where we need to reinvent the wheel. Education institutions will need to be more creative and adaptable in meeting the needs of our students and providing them with equitable school experience. School authorities need to have a strong will, high self-organisation and motivation to deal with the situation.
Schools may probably see smaller class size, staggered schedules, strict hygiene protocols, compulsory social distancing, masked faces, etc.
Reopening plans will include all the hygiene protocols. Specific arrangements will be needed for students who need more support. There will be need to prepare for hybrid teaching arrangements, thinking more often about less privileged students to reduce inequalities.
When the schools reopen, it will be essential for students to have more ecological vision of the relationship between microbes and everyday health, they need to reinforce their knowledge of microorganisms, and not only viruses, to learn how to live with endemic like situations.
To conclude, it won’t be wrong to say that COVID19 is bringing about a whole set of new challenges in every possible realm, education being just one. We must remember that this is only a phase and this too shall pass. However, we must make sure that it does not create a long term impact, which is difficult to mend. There are huge challenges for us, as well as room for innovation.
(The author is Chief Education Officer, Aditya Birla Group, and manages 52 schools across 14 states of India.)