The roadmap for students: tests, staggered attendance
From calling outstation students back in a staggered manner, compulsory testing and quarantine on arrival to reducing the number of students attending class on a day. These are some of the reopening strategies being considered by centrally run schools and higher education institutions as they prepare for an academic year in the midst of a pandemic.
In an indication of what life could look like in residential schools for most part of the year, the Navodaya Vidyalaya Sangathan (NVS) approached the HRD Ministry this week seeking permission to have just senior students of Classes 10 and 12 on campus over the next few months.
As for higher education institutions, the Ministry is keen that at one time, only half the student strength is on campus. Residential campuses could be asked to explore the option of calling just half the students for one half of the semester and the remaining for the other half.
"We will ask residential institutes like IITs to explore this option. The purpose of social distancing will be defeated if there is half the student strength attending classes, but all of them are living as usual in hostels," said a senior HRD Ministry official, who did not wish to be identified.
Meanwhile, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which is preparing school safety guidelines on the Ministry's behest, is likely to recommend shortened weeks with different groups of students attending on different days.
"To ensure learning continues even for the batch that is staying at home on a given day, the school can give them some activity to do at home. Currently, teachers try to teach every part of the chapter in class. But given the changed circumstances, students can be asked to cover some parts on their own and clear their doubts once they are in class on their designated day," NCERT chief Hrushikesh Senapaty told The Sunday Express.
Schools will be expected to follow the guidelines whenever classroom learning resumes.
The NVS runs 635 Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNVs), the central government's residential schools for talented rural children. Each JNV has a total student strength of roughly 480 — 80 in each class — from Classes 6 to 12.
In its proposal, the NVS has suggested keeping just half the strength on campus till October to ensure social distancing between students. It has also recommended that mess timings be staggered to allow students to have their meals in batches.
The proposal states that starting June 8, each JNV could call back students of Classes 9, 10 and 12, in batches of 20 over two shifts each day. So, 240 students — half the school's student strength — will arrive on campus over six days and all of them will be tested for COVID-19. "Only if students test negative, will they be allowed to remain on campus," said a senior NVS officer, speaking to The Sunday Express on condition of anonymity.
Class 9 students will be trained and briefed on online learning for a month, after which they will be sent back home, and students of Classes 6, 7 and 8 will be called separately for a week each for the same training on remote learning.
"In effect, NVS only wants to keep students of Classes 10, 11 & 12 on-campus and others can continue learning remotely.
Since our students come from underprivileged families, we have also proposed that we give each student of Classes 6, 7, 8, and 9 a computer tablet and data bank for 4-5 months. We want to use the money saved on mess expenditure for buying tablets and data bank," the NVS officer said.
As far as higher educational institutions are concerned, each of the IITs are currently working individually on their re-opening strategy. Most institutes are planning to call back students in a staggered manner. Testing for COVID-19 on arrival will be compulsory for all students.
IIT-Delhi, for instance, plans to start calling students once the lockdown is lifted on May 17 and stagger their arrival till October.
"We will first start with final-year research students, followed by final-year MTech and then final-year BTech students. We are staggering their arrival so that we can test everyone and isolate them for two weeks after they reach the campus," said IIT-Delhi Director V Ramgopal Rao.
While IIT-Delhi will use its kits to test students, others such as IIT-Guwahati will have to depend on the state administration. "We have lent our testing apparatus to the state. So we are hopeful the state government will help us once our students start coming back," IIT-Guwahati director TG Sitharam told The Sunday Express.
IIT-Bombay has set up a committee to recommend safety guidelines and re-entry strategies, which will be placed before the Senate for approval.
"We are situated in a state where cases are rising exponentially. So it's very difficult to comment at this moment on how and when we will reopen. We have set up a committee to make suggestions on this," said institute director Subhasis Chaudhuri.
(Inputs and image from theindianexpress.com)