With COVID-19 Cases Still Rising, Should Schools Re-open?

More than half of the academic year has gone, the trade-off between access to education and safety during a pandemic is not an easy decision to make. With an increase and spike in cases in most parts of India, parents are worried about sending their children to school and this is very much evident by surveys conducted in multiple cities. The safety of our loved ones is paramount!

Most parents believe that the winter smog would only make the current situation worse. According to a local survey conducted last month, more than 60% of parents were against sending their kids to school due to the current situation. Even though research has shown that children are not likely to spread the virus, many experts say that schools cannot safely reopen while community transmission is out of control. Keeping all these factors in mind, it is best suitable to conduct academic year from next year for the safety and wellbeing of children.

We must also recognise that the re-opening of schools, also puts the lives of teachers and other staff members at risk. When the lockdown started, it did take a while for schools, parents, children to get used to the “new normal” of education, however, today with the year almost ending, things are more structured and all stakeholders are in a “comfort zone”. Is it the right time to disrupt this, with the virus still very much at large? As an educationist and as a parent myself, the answer would have to be “No”. We understand that certain sections of the society are struggling with access to the right tools to access remote learning, however, we feel that the government should utilise the unlock benefits to ensure that each registered individual child is attended to and ensure that education does not pause. This would be a more fruitful and safer alternative to physically re-opening schools. We must remember, although schools have shut down, education hasn’t!

As we know, social distancing is a pre-requisite to curb the virus, but this is naturally not possible in a classroom environment. For the teachers to ensure physical distancing between the kids would be a monumental task. Another reason for concern would be kids touching all surfaces for which sanitization would not be enough, since we know the virus is capable of hanging in the air for a few hours. Expecting young children and even older ones to continuously wear a mask and refrain from sharing their food, stationaries, etc just make this all the more difficult to manage. There will be blowback in terms of accountability should something go wrong.

The numbers speak for themselves, Case studies from many countries are a startling example, including the US were 97,000 children came down with Covid-19 within 2 weeks of school reopening; while in Berlin, Germany, 41 schools reported children or teachers getting infected within a week. All of these have just added to the concerns amongst Indian parents. With the virus surging to its most unfavourable levels ever, the window for resuming is swiftly shutting. Himachal Pradesh recently restarted schools only to shut them down again within weeks owing to weak attendance and the virus scare. Some schools have already shown detected cases in Haryana too.

As India goes through the phases of unlocking where shops, malls, restaurants have been allowed to resume functions — outside the containment zones — all eyes are now on how the Centre and more importantly the States plan to reopen schools. The reopening of the schools will be a major issue as countries which have reopened schools, including the United States, have witnessed a sudden spike in the COVID-19 cases. Therefore, as custodians of education, we believe it is best not to reopen schools at this given moment and consider the next academic year from January 2021. This is not an easy decision for us to suggest, as schools have suffered tremendously this year owing to various state regulations on Fee collections, adversely affecting cash flows to maintain a school and pay salaries; however human lives always take precedent over financial aspects. If we are to resume with more confidence, more energy, and renewed visions to ensure we meet the goals of the NEP 2020, we must not make haste and plan the next steps diligently and with empathy.

Yatharth Gautam

About the Author

Yatharth Gautam is the Director and Chief Marketing Officer at Birla Open Minds. A graduate in International Business and an MBA in International Marketing, he juggles multiple hats being a senior leader and key person under the aegis of Birla Open Minds, ensuring brand communications and expanding the presence of Birla Open Minds which currently has over 135 schools Pan-India.