Millennium Post

Tread cautiously

Tread cautiously

For the past year, the school education system in India has been at the crossroads, struggling to take decisive action on the reopening of schools. The safety of children was rightly prioritized over the continuance of schooling. But it appears now that phase is a thing of the past as there is greater clarity over the resumption of schools across India in view of the dip in daily cases below 20,000. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation ordered reopening of schools, subject to Covid protocols, in Mumbai for classes 8 to 12 from October 4. Delhi, where schools were re-opened for classes 9-12 a month before, is considering re-opening of schools for remaining classes from November after the festive season ends. Tamil Nadu is set to open schools for classes 1-8 from November. The Rajasthan government has also re-opened schools for students of classes 1-5. The Assam government, which had earlier resumed physical schooling for Classes 10 and 12, will now resume schooling for class 9 from October 1, and classes 1-8 and class 11 from October 19. Apart from the dip in cases at the national level and across the states, it is the successful operation of schools by certain state governments — including Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Delhi — that has helped a great deal in allaying the fears around reopening of schools. It is important to retain the habits and practices that we had adopted during the harsher phases of the pandemic. The positive situation today has been achieved through the improved vaccination rates, awareness among the masses etc. To ensure a foolproof recovery from the negative ramification of the pandemic on school education, the continuance of safe practices should be considered imperative. It is of utmost importance at this juncture to follow the ICMR guidelines during the re-opening process. Though the re-opened schools have not shown any significant threat to school-going children, the students above the age of 12 have been found significantly susceptible to Covid-19 infection. The severity of infection may be milder among children but the long-term repercussions of milder contraction cannot be completely ruled out. A clear implication that needs to be drawn at this point in time is to ensure vaccination of children above the age of 12, parallel to the resumption of classes. The fourth round of the National Serosurvey for COVID-19, conducted in June this year, revealed that more than half of the children aged between six and 17 were seropositive. On the need for masking, ICMR has not recommended masks for children below the age of five years but left it to the individual capacity of children between the age of six to 11 to wear or not wear masks. It has however mandated the use of masks for children above the age of 12 years. Besides the ICMR guidelines, states have also devised their own set of SOPs — depending upon the regional threats — that need to be strictly implemented. Reopening schools is a mammoth and sensitive exercise and requires extensive caution and planning at each step. Of course, all attempts need to be made to avoid any possible threat to the health of children. But still, there is no guarantee of safety given the unpredictable nature of the virus and its strains. It is in this view that the states must have a closure strategy for schools in mind, at least at a local level, in case the situation deteriorates regionally. The fact is that schools will have to re-open at some point in time. At the present, when the number of cases has gone down appreciably, and certain states have successfully operated schools through effective SOPs and following Covid-19 protocols, it may be the right time to re-open schools for children of different age brackets. But this is not at all the sign of being in the safe zone, it is rather a necessity that cannot be avoided for a long time. The present situation doesn't offer us a secure path to roam along, but rather a tightrope to just keep us going. So, tread cautiously.

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