Back to school: On reopening of schools post lockdown

Reopening will prevent a washout year for students but the pandemic is not past

November 03, 2020 12:15 am | Updated 01:10 pm IST

The most significant aspect of continued unlocking of public activity during the COVID-19 pandemic is the decision of many States to reopen schools in November . While some, such as Andhra Pradesh and Assam, have allowed pupils back on campus from November 2, many others are waiting until Deepavali to resume classes. Attendance at schools remains voluntary, since the Centre’s guidelines, which now extend until the end of November, specify that parents can decide what their wards should do. Existing regulations allow research scholars and students who have to take up practical work to resume from October 15, but colleges remain understandably cautious and want to adopt a staggered approach to reopening. India’s revitalised public sphere outside containment zones, with shops and restaurants open, and buses and urban trains on stream, is set to widen its scope as cinemas also open at half capacity. These activities will restore the sinews of the economy, but they come with the risk of exposing more people to the coronavirus. At the end of several fatiguing months of restrictions, the belief that India has crossed peak infections and reduced its transmission rate could well prompt citizens to become lax about safe behaviour — proper, universal use of face coverings, personal hygiene and distancing norms. This could pose an unprecedented risk, since children who are believed to be less affected by the infection could bring the virus home to vulnerable individuals, a phenomenon experienced after reopening schools in Israel. Minimising negative impacts during the unlock and pre-vaccine phase, therefore, requires unwavering adherence to safety protocols, and additional vigilance on the part of State health authorities who must monitor the situation in educational institutions.

Globally, reopening of schools has elicited mixed reactions, but governments have deferred to the learning needs of children in Europe where lockdowns have been reimposed due to a fresh wave of cases. In any case, data published in August show that children represented less than 5% of all infections in 27 European countries. Teachers’ unions in Britain are calling for limited classes to help disadvantaged children and those with parental commitments; public schools in many U.S. States remain closed while some private institutions have reopened; France is asking even small children to wear masks along with teachers. The consensus is to prevent crowding, mandate masks, and allow natural air to ventilate rooms. Such precautions have universal applicability as preventive measures. A reopening will revive the economy, but it need not impose a deadly price in the form of avoidable and invisible deaths among the elderly and the vulnerable.

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