The J&K government last week ordered the resumption of offline classes for students in schools, colleges and universities, besides the polytechnic institutes, from February 01.
The schools in summer zone areas of Jammu division will physically open for class 9th to 12th from February 01 and for elementary classes, teachers will attend from February 01 for preparation. Also, the students of rest of the classes will physically attend classes from February 08.
The decision to resume the offline classes in all educational institutions is not as easy as it seems in the official papers given the practical difficulties associated with it.
Though the government has issued guidelines to be followed while resuming the offline classes for the students, it needs to be seen whether the precautionary measures will be followed by one and all coming to these educational institutions.
One cannot rule out the further transmission of the covid19 if the schools and colleges will resume physical classes for the students.
In J&K, the decision to resume offline classes for students should have been taken commensurate proportion with the availability of the infrastructure in schools, colleges and universities.
The government schools always hit the headlines for having poor infrastructure. Also, from the past few years, the government has made the newly established colleges functional in a makeshift arrangement without providing proper infrastructure to the institution. The situation of these colleges is no different than the SSA schools which crave for the better infrastructural facilities.
Now coming to the point that whether the government decision to resume offline classes will prove fruitful or will bounce back and make the situation more challenging for the government. It is a fact that covid19 is not over yet. So, the opening of educational institutions poses a great risk to students, parents and the staff.
First, and the foremost thing is that the government on priority should delay resuming offline classes and start vaccination of all stakeholders including students, teaching and non-teaching staff of the schools, colleges and the universities.
What if the outbreak occurs after the schools and colleges will reopen. It will be difficult to manage the rush of students and their parents to the testing centres and hospitals. In case the situation takes any ugly turn, the government will be ready with additional quarantine and isolation facilities to accommodate the infected people, mostly students.
Also, the social distancing in schools, colleges and universities becomes a huge challenge and enforcement of measures is difficult. In J&K, majority of the schools and colleges are poorly ventilated and sans proper infrastructure.
The government directions issued for resuming offline classes includes one of the measures that students can sit almost two meters apart from each other. And in case of non-availability of such space, staggered schedule/shift timings and student rotation can be an option.
But, it is practically difficult to implement such guidelines given non-availability of space and other facilities. In government schools, teachers usually accommodate two to three classes in one room.
The teachers in such schools cannot implement the guidelines given the space crunch. Had the government done a survey on availability of accommodation in schools, it might have delayed resuming offline classes for students. Not only schools, but the same is the case with dozens of colleges as well.
Also, the newly announced colleges have been made functional in primary schools, Panchayat Ghars and other make shift arrangements. In such institutions, it will be practically difficult to maintain a distance of two meters between students as mentioned in the government guidelines.
The government has instructed that heads of the schools and colleges should ensure there is space to temporarily separate sick students and staff without creating stigma. Now, the question arises where will such students or staff members be accommodated in schools where a single room is used as a classroom and staff room as well. The headmaster’s office is used as a store room.
Besides schools and colleges, the university has to open hostels for the students as students from different districts enrolled in the varsities cannot afford to travel to and fro on a daily basis. But making all the hostels functional is equally a risk as no one can guarantee the hygiene and the social distancing to be maintained in the hostels.
Given these circumstances the government should have not taken such a hasty decision to order for opening schools physically for students.
Given the prevailing situation, the government should, instead, continue the online education mode for some time. Even if there are stringent measures in place to check those infected, or to maintain social distancing in schools, it would be almost impossible to detect the asymptomatic cases and stop them from joining school.
It is true that there are several challenges in the online mode of education. The basic problem is non-availability of the high speed internet and there are thousands of students who do not have access to the smart phones and internet.
But the government itself in 2020 claimed to have reached all the students who do not have access to online classes. The students are provided study material through different means. This certainly eliminates the need for any hasty move to open schools without the vaccine being administered to children.
In 2020, the educational institutions were deserted in the wake of the outbreak of the covid19 pandemic. Even if the educational institutions are closed, the education has never stopped. And amid the closure of the educational institutions, the homes eventually became the classrooms with teaching taking the virtual mode. The students by and large adopted the new mode of education as well. The continuous curbs on high speed internet however always played a spoilsport.
Having said all this, we cannot deny that the need to reopen is very real and felt by students, parents and teachers as well. But any such decision should be supported by all the facilities not only in official papers but on ground as well.
Keeping in view all these circumstances, the government should delay resuming physical classes and ensure other requisite measures which will reduce the risk of transmission and control the spread of the covid19. Let the government not be in race with other states to resume offline classes. Instead, it should ensure other measures are taken care of before resuming classes physically.