It has been more than a year with school closures across the nation due to pandemic. The situation in Kashmir is even worse as the crisis have stretched over the last 3-5 years. Consequently, there has been a steady spike in the anxiety levels of parents and teachers alike, not to mention the growing angst in students.
The ongoing crisis
Over the last year, globally, many credible institutions have raised red flags about the deteriorating mental health conditions of students after school closure. Educationists and NGOs are voicing similar concerns on online platforms. There are news articles published about the far-reaching, deadly implications on the future of youngsters. All this has naturally added to the pressure on concerned authorities to reopen schools.
Simultaneously, there has been a series of disturbing news about the dangers of Covid-19 mutations & transmission. This has increased parental concerns about the safety of their children who could be equally susceptible if schools reopen. The usual argument is about protecting the kids. Juvenile Covid is a dangerous possibility; can we afford to take any chance?
The conflict in government policy-makers is palpable. It’s a double-edged sword - errors on either side of the decision will invite huge backlash.
Whenever a society is caught in such crossfire, the usual stand of decisive key players like the government is to do the easiest - play safe. ‘The schools remain closed. Safety of kids is the top priority.’ Period!
Fair enough. The pandemic realities demanded a swift, blanket decision of closing schools and the entire nation was one on this. There was no conflict then.
Are schools the last priority
But today, it is pretty evident the pandemic is here to stay for long. Can a unilateral decision of school closure ever be a permanent solution? Then, why is this extension ongoing?
Especially when the only stakeholder who is never considered an important part of this decision-making process is the child or the youth. The very beneficiary of the school system!
It is the lives of these young that we are discussing. The young don’t seem to be expressing but are definitely witnessing and judging our moves. So when they see the rest of the world opening up, be it hotels, malls, industries, travel, tourism, markets … except schools, they infer young to be the last priority of the government.
There is an increasing feeling that that this extended school closure now makes little or no sense. This playing-safe entails a bigger risk; that of deepening the stress in parents and children. This is unlike many European countries, where all the governments are far more accommodating when it comes to the well-being of children and youth during pandemics.
Understandably, the reopening schools is a potential risk for any government. This risk is not there in opening malls and offices, because the lives of kids make an extremely sensitive and emotional issue. A single unfortunate accident would be catastrophic and in no time will snowball into a huge crisis for decision-makers. No government would be willing to pay this cost?
Collective responsibility is need of the hour
International organizations engaged with mental health, clearly indicate a very important finding based on their surveys. There need to be high levels of trust between schools, public officials, and governments. School closures or reopening have worked where there were high levels of trust between these key players.
Ideally, such an important issue as schools, education or well being of the young during Covid-19, should warrant all the key stakeholders to sit together, dialogue and agree on some policies. This collective must include not just the government, but also schools, parents' bodies, youth representatives, relevant psychologists and child-centered NGOs.
The execution of policies in all likelihood will face some hiccups. In such times, all the above players especially the government is expected to stand firm, and own the responsibility.
Whether the schools must reopen or close – this decision can never achieve its objectives until a well-intended community of all these stakeholders is an active part of it.
18 months on, it is high time that this unending debate gets prompt closure for the sake of the well being of our young generation. As a government with progressive vision, this is a golden opportunity to attempt a model of cohesive- collaborative effort.
(Author is Developmental worker for education reforms and teens-youth-girl empowerment)