Reopening of schools

Front page. Three headlines. One: ‘Record surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths’. Second: ‘Government mulls reopening of schools for higher classes from September 21’. Third: ‘Covid-19 could fuel more conflict, poverty, starvation’ (Greater Kashmir, 11 September-2020).

Breaking all previous records, India in general and Jammu & Kashmir, in particular, is witnessing an unprecedented rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths with every passing day. And amidst this entire pandemonium, people at the helm are planning to reopen schools without taking a reality check. Let’s not shy away from, but own up the ground reality. Most of the public schools here lack basic facility like washrooms and proper furniture, not to speak of automated sanitizing dispensers and continuous clean water for hand hygiene. No gainsaying that we can’t compete with developed countries while framing the guidelines for reopening of schools. We need to know our limitations.

Despite having the most superior educational infrastructure, a developed country like the USA too had to reconsider the closure of schools as nearly one lakh children got infected with Covid-19 within two weeks of school re-opening.

Parents here have valid fears and compelling concerns. There is no way anyone can ensure the safety of children at schools. If someone contracts the virus, it will be difficult to handle the predicament. The chaos and confusion won’t be confined only to school premises. Experts are of the opinion that the opening of schools is going to exacerbate the Covid-19 crisis. Studies have suggested that the children who contract this virus usually remain asymptomatic but become super-spreaders. The children can be detrimental spreaders in their respective families. Apart from the students’ safety, which nobody is going to guarantee, the safety of teachers is also a concern. Teachers with any pre-existing health condition are at a higher risk of having adverse effects of Covid-19 infection.

Once schools are reopened, it’s actually impossible to achieve social distancing in school buses, washrooms, labs and classrooms. We can’t expect children to wear a face mask for six long hours. Given the devious nature of coronavirus, it is just impractical to be in a delusion that we can put in every precaution around high touch places and equipments in school buses and schools per se. We need to accept the miserable fact that we don’t have yet enough knowledge about this virus to take flawless decisions. It’s going to take substantial time to be au fait with this deadly organism.

Missing of a school-day is far less lethal than mortality and morbidity that coronavirus can gift. Sooner or later, education can somehow be compensated, the economy can be recovered, but what you can’t overcome is death from this virus. Right now, slowing down the spread should be the priority, rather than pushing the population into another precarious crisis.

Closure of schools during Covid-19 may be an unsettling new normal for the world. However, it is nothing novel for the children who breathe in conflict. Covid-19 or no Covid-19—children here are staying home for more than a year now. Closed schools and loss of education never seemed a big concern for authorities in the valley. Over the years, the closure and opening of educational institutions here has witnessed responses that were capitalized for emblematic political gains in the ways the wind blew. Today one fails to understand how come, during this pandemic, the loss of schooldays by students has all of a sudden developed into an ‘imperative concern’. If it is truly about the education of children, rather than opening of schools and putting every child and his/her respective family at risk of Covid-19 infection, let authorities, first of all, curb the ban on 4G internet and provide high-speed connectivity to students across Kashmir.

Bottomline: For anything regarding the reopening of schools, there seems a huge disconnect between policy planners, executers and parents. Lamentably, planners plan in jiffy and executers take orders, acting without more ado. And for flustered parents here, theirs is a grim struggle. Worried about both safety and education of their wards, they are cruising along a tough terrain of conflict- wrought limitations and psychological impact on the lives of a growing new generation: their children. For them, parenting is snowballing into a challenging project whose realization is controlled by multiple factors within a conflicting paradigm, both political and apolitical.