Swapna Sharma from Indore had been looking forward to helping her son, Nirvaan, get used to his new kindergarten playmates in the beginning of June. “Now it appears to be a never-ending wait. I do not know when I will be able to safely admit him to school,” says Swapna, a bank employee, heaving a sigh.
With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping schools shut across the country, the beginning of the new academic year has gone for a toss. Even when educational institutions eventually open for regular classes, it might be an uphill task for students, teachers and parents to ensure that safety protocols are adhered to. Teachers point out that, notwithstanding the practical encumbrances of enforcing precautionary measures among older students, utmost vigil has to be observed in the case of students in kindergarten and lower primary sections.
“Many schools were supposed to conduct summer camps, which had been called off. So, this year, when young kids come back to school after such a long break and having spent most of their time with parents, some of whom may have been working from home, they may go through separation anxiety. It will be a tad difficult for them to get acclimatised to regular classes, especially under restricted conditions,” says Leena Chandra, a teacher at an international pre-school in Bengaluru.
She says one way of helping kids fall in line with precautionary measures is to constantly talk to them about their importance. “Children are very smart and easily catch on things. In their early years, they pick up habits by imitating others. So it will be good to demonstrate to them the dos and don'ts. However, we must tread a gentle, affectionate path and try not to scare them,” adds Leena.
Malavika Raju, a lower-primary government school teacher from Thiruvananthapuram, wonders if teaching while wearing masks will be a hindrance to classroom dynamics. “But it may be a necessary evil given the circumstances,” she says. Kerala on Tuesday resumed board exams (SSLC and VHSC), which were suspended in March, with stringent social distancing measures in place.
Even as educational institutions remain shut, some schools are “making mental preparations” to chart out a roadmap in line with government protocols to be followed once the green signal comes. “Through Zoom meetings and WhatsApp communications, the teachers are being kept in the loop. We are doing some sort of a sensitisation among students regarding the new normal,” says K Mythili, Headmistress of a government school in Coimbatore.
Some of the precautionary measures mooted include thorough disinfection of classrooms and campus before reopening, temperature checks of students before entering school every day, regulating working days and hours as much as possible and dividing classes into manageable groups to ensure social distancing, assigning varied break timings to avoid crowding and so on. Morning assemblies will be a strict no-no. However, Mythili admits that it will be “challenging” to ensure all regulations for younger kids.
Parents too are largely unsure about how best to deal with the situation, with some preferring to start the academic year on an online basis for the time being. “We do not have to rush into things and should wait till everything’s back to normal. Even then, it will be tough to make kids stick to social distancing, wearing of masks and hand-washing at appropriate times,” says Thiruvananthapuram-native Linu G S, mother of Aaron K Sajeesh who enters class 1. “Teachers and the support staff will have to remain extra watchful. But, in a class of so many kids, how careful can we be!” she wonders.
Doctors point out that particularly younger kids tend to have more close interactions with each other and hence the teacher-parent community needs to be on their toes. “As per some of the guidelines of Academy of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine (APCCM) advisory, measures worth considering include avoiding shuffling of batches, a practice followed by some schools, so that cross-class mingling can be reduced. It is advisable to assign the same set of teachers as the previous academic year for a class to make students feel comfortable and receptive to instructions. For younger kids, it will be good to make practices such as hand-washing a fun activity,” says Dr. Kiran Vishnu Narayan, Assistant Professor, Department of Pulmonary Medicine, Kottayam Medical College.
He cautions against blindly trusting information spread in social media and WhatsApp about safety protocols. “ It is advisable to follow only government guidelines,” adds Dr. Kiran.