Andhra Pradesh

Schooling amid pandemic

After hemming and hawing for long enough, the government finally decided to reopen schools in the State from November 2 in a graded way.

A series of meetings involving experts and stakeholders happened amid a prolonged indecisiveness over ‘to open or not to open’ for there is too much at stake. Burdened with the pressure of catering to the academic needs of students, the safety concerns of parents and the health authorities during the pandemic, the authorities were tasked with finding a middle ground.

Given the situation, it was not easy for the government to go ahead with its decision to resume classroom teaching for all the students at one go and so, a schedule of staggered classes for students pursuing different levels of education and courses was put together, says the Education Minister Adimulapu Suresh.

Besides following what the Minister calls the ‘SMS mantra’ (Sanitisation of hands and surroundings, Mask to cover face and Social distancing) an application is launched to monitor whether all schools are strictly adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines.

Though the Minister has expressed satisfaction over the number of children returning to school, reports surfacing about headmasters, teachers and children testing positive in the last few days have sparked serious concern over the spread of the virus.

Teachers at risk

“We cannot ignore the fact that our schools have been reopened at a time when the second wave of COVID-19 has sent much of the Europe back into lockdown. India is currently at the tail-end of the first wave and bracing for the second wave,” says A.S. Ramakrishna, MLC from Krishna-Guntur Teachers’ constituency.

“Among the recently reported cases, there are more teachers than students. Today, a headmaster from Chittoor district died of COVID-19. We know of at least 15 headmasters who were entrusted with the Nadu-Nedu works in the lockdown period and died of the virus infection,” he says.

Students were asked to come to school during the lockdown to give measurement for the size of their shoes, one of the components in the school kits distributed under the Vidya Kanuka. He cites examples of the States like Assam and Manipur which have fewer cases and yet kept their schools shut and wonders, “Why A.P. is in such rush?”

Quoting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who said that he would not allow students to go back to school until a coronavirus vaccine was available, Mr. Ramakrishna says the Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy should follow suit.

Practical problems

The department is trying to find possibilities in this difficult phase but there are practical issues that may pose challenges. Space constraint and limited strength of teachers, for instance. “Now that the students of only Classes 9 and 10 are attending, maintaining social distance is possible. But when others (students of Classes 6, 7 and 8) join, we will have shortage of both classrooms and teachers,” says P. Panduranga Prasad, headmaster of Velagaleru Zilla Parishad High School and general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Teachers’ Federation.

Parental concerns

A large number of parents are averse to the idea of sending their children to school when the pandemic is still around. “I prefer online classes to physical classroom teaching, specially in the light of the second wave,” says G. Mamatha, who has a daughter studying in seventh class.

Private school managements have been sending online forms to parents asking them to fill them if they are willing to send their wards to school. “I have made it very clear, ‘no vaccine no school’ for my son,” says Jayanthi Gogineni, mother of a 9th class student.

In the higher education sector, all seems to be fine as there are no complaints so far, according to an official in the Department of Higher Education. “We have advised colleges to allow only one-third strength for physical classroom teaching while remaining can attend online classes. The government has also kept the option of discontinuing physical classes and it will take a call depending on the situation,” explains the official.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 5:23:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/schooling-amid-pandemic/article33070406.ece

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