MUMBAI: Schools in India have been shut since the mid of March and gone completely online. This is a tough period for not only students but teachers to teach a batch of virtual students. Well, the centre has framed a plan of re-opening schools and other educational institutions, phase-wise, starting from September 1 to November 14.
The plan has been discussed with the group of secretaries attached to the Group of Ministers on COVID – 19 management, headed by health minister Harsh Vardhan. The decision is likely to be notified as a part of the final unlock guidelines to be issued later this month which would guide the states on unlocking the remaining activities after August 31. As per the sources, final decision on when and how to begin the schools will be left on the state governments.
Broad standard operating procedures (SOPs) would be issued for schools and educational institutions. This follows a quick survey conducted earlier in July by the department off school education. Though the survey had indicated that parents are not comfortable for sending their children to school, there is an argument between the state and the centre governments that economically weaker sections are suffering in this situation.
A senior official, who was part of the discussions, said, “The state, where case loads have been low, have also expressed their keenness to bring back students of senior classes.”
The guidelines, which have been vetted by the ministry of human resource development and the health ministry, recommend the opening of schools and running them in a phased manner. For the first 15 days, students of Class 10 to 12 would be asked to attend school. Different sections of a class would be asked to come on particular days.
In a school, if Class 10 has four sections, half the students of sections A and C would come on particular days and the remaining on the other days. The number of hours would be restricted from 5-6 to 2-3 hours of physical attendance. All schools are likely to run in shifts — 8 am to 11 am and 12 to 3 pm with a one-hour break in between for sanitization. The schools would be advised to run on 33% capacity of teaching staff.
The discussions within the group of secretaries reveal that the government is not in favor of calling pre-primary or primary school students to school and continue with online classes. After the introduction of physical classes for Class 10 to 12, the schools would be advised to start physical schooling with restricted hours for Class 6 to 9. If a school has multiple wings, the classes would be spread out and the schools would be advised to use the primary section to spread out senior students. “We have studied the way countries like Switzerland have brought back children to school safely. A similar model would be employed in India,” an official said.
North-Eastern states, the hill states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and the UTs may be in a position to reopen schools and educational institutions. Sources indicated that the Centre would recommend it and state governs may take a final decision seeing the COVID – 19 caseloads and the popular opinion of school management and parents.