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Schools in Kerala can reopen with planning to minimise COVID risks: Experts

There is general consensus on the need to reopen schools and colleges for the physical and mental well-being of children although it has also raised safety concerns among parents.

Published: 10th August 2021 06:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th August 2021 10:07 AM   |  A+A-

For representational purposes

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Going to school and meeting friends and teachers are going to be a reality soon as the state makes preparations to reopen educational institutions in line with similar moves across the country.

The decision will impact the lives of at least 50 lakh children aged below 20, who have switched to online classes since March 2020.

There is general consensus on the need to reopen schools and colleges for the physical and mental well-being of children although it has also raised safety concerns among parents.

However, experts said meticulous planning and awareness would help minimise the risk.

“The school reopening is important for the personality development of children. But there should be proper preparations involving all stakeholders to ensure Covid-appropriate behaviour. Classrooms should be properly ventilated and classes held in multiple sessions with fewer students per session,” said professor of paediatrics at MES Medical  College Dr Purushothaman Kuzhikkathukandiyil.

It has been found that children are less likely to get seriously ill due to Covid than adults. But they could still pass on the infection to the adults.

Hence, health experts have called for vaccinating the teachers and staff before reopening. The government has also announced steps in this direction.

The evidence shows that younger children will be more asymptomatic than older ones. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommended opening primary schools first. But health experts in the state want students in higher classes to attend school first.

“Maintaining social distancing is a major challenge for reopening schools. Our schools are not designed in such a manner, so it would be better if older students who are better aware of Covid protocol start attending the schools first,” said Dr A Santhosh Kumar, ex-deputy superintendent of Sree Avittam Thirunal Hospital.

Dr Purushothaman also wanted teenagers to be given preference as they face the most mental pressure during school closure.

He also said teenagers are better at giving feedback on the changes required in the new system. 

While it is important to have offline sessions, health experts wanted online sessions to continue as they will help reduce offline ones to a minimum duration, thereby reducing exposure, besides giving flexibility to parents to choose the mode of study. 

Even with better preparedness in terms of high vaccine coverage and social distancing, it has been found that school reopening leads to a rise in new cases.

But health experts wanted all stakeholders not to panic and deal with the situation.

HERE’S A QUICK GUIDE

State’s plan

  • To open schools in a phased manner.

  • Vaccinate teachers and other staff in schools.

  • Increase the vaccine coverage.

Favourable factors

  •  Children less susceptible to Covid compared to adults.

  •  Severe Covid among children rare.

  •  Better vaccination coverage among 45-plus age group.

  •  Improved healthcare facilities for treating children.

Disadvantages

  •  Large number of susceptible population. 

  •  Large proportion of elderly population and concerns of reinfection.

Challenges

  •  Increased exposure leads to rise in positive cases.

  •  Difficulty in ensuring Covid appropriate behaviour by schoolchildren.

  •  Concerns of third wave, recent uptick in the state.

Preparations required

  • Ensure Covid-appropriate behaviour — wearing masks, maintaining social distancing.

  • Properly ventilated classrooms, corridors.

  • Awareness among children, parents and teachers.

  • Shorter offline sessions along with online classes.

What is allowed

  •  Offline classes with fewer students.

  •  Non-contact sports .

Not allowed

  • Crowding .

  • Eating lunch together. 

  • Sharing educational materials, toys. 

  • Close contact sports.

Date of reopening in other states

  • Karnataka : August 23: Class 9 to 12.

  • Tamil Nadu: September 1: Class 9 to 12.

  • Andhra Pradesh: August 16: Class 12.

  • Maharashtra: August 17: Class 5 to 8 (rural areas)  Class 8 to 12 (urban areas).

  • Delhi: August 9: Class 11 and 12.

  • UP: August 16: Class 12.

  • Odisha: August 16: Class 9, September 15: Class 15.

  • July 26: Class 10 and 12).



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