The Maharashtra government’s directive to close schools till February 15 in the wake of the spread of the Omicron variant, even in rural areas and parts where there is no rise in number of COVID-19 patients, has irked teachers and parents with many teacher groups terming it discriminatory and damaging to students who have already lost around two years of primary education.
“Will government close down schools in Mumbai and Thane if remote places like Nandurbar or Gadchiroli witness COVID cases? It will not. Then why these remote parts where online education is practically impossible are forced to shut down schools for surge in cases in urban areas?” asked Bhau Chaskar of the Active Teachers Forum (ATF), a teacher in government school in Akole in Ahmednagar district.
Public Health Minister Rajesh Tope, asked about the closure, said the Cabinet had discussed this issue. “Cases are increasing in rural areas as well. We do not think there should be any change in the decision. Schools will remain closed for the next 10-15 days at least. Based on the situation after this, we will take a decision,” he said.
According to the teachers’ bodies, closing down schools is nothing but illogical when the government has allowed shopping malls, theatres and gyms to function with 50% capacity and suburban local trains to run as per schedule. “With two years of COVID-19 cases, even the school children are now exposed to this virus, despite being in the home. Online education can never be an alternative to physical classes and at a time when schools had reopened they are closed again. It is going to harm an entire generation,” he said.
In many rural parts of the State, teachers have decided not to close down the schools with consent letters from parents. Demands have also been made to decentralise the process of closing down schools.
The State Primary Teachers Committee, an umbrella body, has written to all its members clarifying that it does not support closure of all schools but the decision should be taken based on the number of patients at village level. In its letter, the association has asked its members not to glorify online education but to present ground report to the administration based on actual availability of android mobile phones per household. “Do not give false information under pressure from the administration. It is not only detrimental to students but also dishonest on our part.”
According to sources in the School Education Department, the decision to open schools depends on the recommendations of the task force on COVID-19. “We are focused on the safety of the students. A decision will soon be taken,” a senior official said.