The Kerala government's green signal to reopen schools in November despite the continued threat of COVID-19 has left parents and teachers in a dilemma.
The unexpected lockdown in the wake of the pandemic in early 2020 ushered in unprecedented changes in the education system with schools forced to announce online classes as the only possible solution to the question of how to complete the syllabus. Teachers who were not accustomed to new age learning had to grapple with training sessions and other hacks to quickly get the hang of Zoom meets. But those who remain ill at ease with gadgets are keen to make a return to school.
“I am much relieved that I can resume offline classes and be back in the classroom although there is always a likelihood of getting infected or infecting others due to the callous behaviour of people. I am not very tech-savvy and hence to conduct online classes was a herculean task for me personally. With safety procedures in place, I think reopening of schools is a good option for teachers who struggle to conduct online classes,” says high school teacher Kausalya from Kochi.
Others say that while there are limitations to imparting lessons through online classes, they would prefer it to continue for some more time. “I have taken an effort to make myself comfortable to the new setting and have also invested in buying a decent laptop as the school authorities refused to help us. If we are asked to come back to school all of a sudden, it causes some anxiety,” says 46-year-old Lakshmi Menon from Pathanamthitta.
Teachers are worried about the potential outbreak of COVID-19 clusters when offline classes resume, given that Kerala is still the worst-hit state in the country.
A teacher from a reputed school in Kochi says, “There is no proper mechanism in place to keep a check on students and teachers here. One of our colleagues tested positive and it was a potential risk for all of us who interacted with her although we maintained social distancing. Imagine how risky it would be to manage students of all classes if schools are reopened. We cannot expand the classes and we need time to prepare a way to admit students. Sudden announcements only bring chaos and confusion.”
Parents are also in two minds on whether to send their kids back to school or continue with online classes. While they acknowledge that from a learning point of view, offline classes are preferable, they are also worried about the health risks.
“I do want my child to get a complete education but I am also concerned about the risks. I have not been satisfied with the online class module as I do not know if children are able to grasp much through this medium. Also, children need interaction with their peers and with the onset of online classes, they are missing out heavily on this aspect. I am confused about whether to send my child to school or not. Perhaps, the government should take necessary steps in instilling confidence in our minds to send kids to schools again,” says a worried parent who did not wish to be named.
The views of health experts are likely to play a role in reassuring parents and teachers who are still not convinced about the decision. The Kerala government has already said that it plans counselling sessions for parents and teachers to allay fears. Doctors note that schools cannot remain closed indefinitely and have suggested a raft of precautions to ensure safety when offline classes resume.
"It is inevitable that schools have to be reopened at some point. It is always better to follow proper guidelines to avoid the risk of getting infected. According to the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, it is better to reopen schools in districts where the TPR is below 5 percent. Students should strictly follow safety procedures like wearing the mask in a proper manner and social distancing. Teachers and non-teaching staff should be vaccinated at least with one dose. High-risk people should be vaccinated with two doses. School authorities should make arrangements to reduce the break time to maintain social distancing. It is also better for parents to remain vaccinated to avoid any complications," says Dr Abraham K Paul, Consultant Pediatrician at Indira Gandhi Cooperative Hospital, Kochi.