The State governments will each make their own decisions on when to reopen schools, School Education Secretary Anita Karwal said on Friday, emphasising that the Centre would not intervene in the issue.
However, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development has prepared guidelines for sanitation, quarantine and physical distancing norms to be followed by schools whenever they reopen, she said.
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Ms. Karwal was speaking at a virtual conference on school education and the COVID challenge, hosted by Ashoka University.
“The safe school operation guidelines are actually ready. We are doing some consultation with the States, and there is some kind of rumour going around that these guidelines are actually going to tell the date of school reopening. No, there is no such thing, I must clarify,” she said. “Because school reopening dates are entirely within the purview of the State governments and the Union Territories and they have to decide depending on the local situation. The Centre does not intervene on this. We are only trying to prepare guidelines for sanitation and social distancing and how to do classroom transactions with all these guidelines.”
Rigorous health screening and quarantine protocols, hygiene measures, and students coming to class in shifts while others study from home are some of the measures that have reportedly been suggested.
India has almost 25 crore school students from Classes 1 to 12, all of whom have been affected by the shutdown of educational institutions for the past two-and-a-half months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They study in 15.5 lakh schools, of which 70% are run by the Central and State governments. School boards in some States are yet to complete classes and examinations for the 2019-20 school year, while the others are yet to determine when to begin the 2020-2021 academic session.
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Ms. Karwal noted that the post-COVID education experience will be different from life before the pandemic, even where schools are able to reopen. “The way learning happens in classrooms is going to change because of the various safety and social distancing norms. There are going to be a lot of adjustments for students and teachers, which cannot happen overnight and may take longer for some learners,” she said. “There will be a lot of home schooling for some time and there is the possibility of blended schooling also: a bit at home and a bit at school. So we need to prepare a framework for that.”
Ms. Karwal slammed the way many schools have approached online learning. “Some schools have simply replicated the timetable of the school. The child is sitting in front of the device for seven to eight hours. There is this cry that there is only one device in the household and you can’t give it for schooling,” she said, adding that the HRD Ministry is preparing guidelines to prevent such scenarios. The CBSE has also released a cybersecurity manual to protect children who are now required to spend time online for educational purposes.
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The Centre is also developing an indigenous tool to host digital classrooms, said Ms. Karwal, with Operation Digital Board under way at the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. Currently, individual schools and boards are using a variety of tools, ranging from Zoom classes to Google Classroom to other video-conferencing and file sharing applications.