In regard to the nearly 17-month old pandemic horrors in India we usually discuss the economy & the growth rate, loss of lives, jobs & livelihoods, the worst affected sectors, lack of any meaningful financial relief by the government and other issues. The TV channels regularly show how the film stars and other celebrities are doing and how sports activities should be restarted. Only occasionally we discuss how the home-imprisoned students are coping with the crisis; that too we don’t care to know how they are doing, but only hold chat shows with the same education experts or teachers on basically the same points repeated over and over again. Then, there are the raging debates on holding various types of exams at the relevant points of time. However, in the recent weeks the debates have picked up about holding the 10th and 12th class final exams which finally ended with all the states deciding to declare results without holding exams and based on the online tests and overall two-year assessment, but hardly any discussions are taking place about how the students of the vast rural areas are coping up without having access to digital devices and internet connections. And now, debates are on about reopening the schools, particularly the primary schools, as the situation seems to be easing up in several states. 12+ higher classes are being held only partially in some states though that is subject to parental consent letters.
We salute the millions of parents for handling their children inside the four walls doing everything possible to keep them mentally stable, providing them time and facilities, feeding them well and allowing them for the occasional recreation activities whenever respective colonies and societies ease up the restrictions of walking, cycling and playing in the campus or in the parks as per the situation of the infections. The loss suffered by the students is huge, considering their isolation, lack of personal interaction with friends and teachers and an almost bleak future looming ahead as regards their future admissions and educational choices and pursuits. Taking into account all such factors the schools must be reopened as soon as possible, and some states are actively thinking about this taking the parents into confidence.
However, most of the parents, a survey says nearly 48% of them, still object to sending their children to schools, not at all being assured about the protective measures supposed to be taken by the respective schools. They are fully justified for the following reasons: experts themselves say that living with 10 to 17 year-olds is a risky proposition, because they have to go out of homes on some activity or work and if they contract the virus and bring it home they will most probably recover quite easily, but the elders will be put at grave risk; the much-feared COVID-19 third wave is to strike any time and many experts are saying it will affect the children significantly; vaccination is being done for students only above 18 years of age, and the vaccination drive has been stagnating due to obvious shortage of doses despite repeated denials by the government, we are forced to witness unprecedented rush and even fisticuffs at the limited and partially operating vaccination centers all over the country; and vaccination of the children up to the age of 17 are yet to be announced despite the government’s claim that several vaccines are getting ready for them.
At this crucial juncture the worries of the parents must be respected. All students, right from the nursery level, must be fully vaccinated and the third wave must be prevented or well tackled before the schools reopen, and in the meantime online classes have to continue. Some educationists have suggested various measures like dividing a class into groups for taking classes at different points of time since most of the teachers have to attend the schools daily, and they claim that if gyms, bars & restaurants, cinema halls, markets, public transport (only partially in most states) and offices can be reopened why not schools. But, who can be trusted to devise a fool-proof plan to benefit all students, and who will be responsible if some them get the now-dominant Delta variant and bring it home? Parents are not convinced, neither us.
Effective measures other than reopening schools immediately can be considered in the meantime. Educational institutions or agencies, government organizations, news channels and NGOs should undertake surveys and studies to assess the mental health of the students, provide them with online avenues of entertainment and interaction, organizing online multi-purpose conferences region wise and highlight all meaningful experiments or extra-curricular work being done or achieved by the home-imprisoned students in their spare time. This is an extremely concerning issue and all the best brains of the country must engage themselves for solutions. This is not only the gravest crisis of the century facing the students, but also for the future of the country which looks bleak even otherwise.