Contagion Keeping Students, Parents, Teachers On Tenterhooks

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by Syed Samreen

SRINAGAR: After staying on-line with vintage internet speed, students of classes 9 to 12 resumed physical mode of education on March 1. This time the resumption came with new norms, dictated by the invisible virus – masks, sanitisers, physical distancing.

Entry to schools is subject to a welcome temperature check. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

The school re-opening is a first after August 5 2019, with a brief opening in February 2020, and a quick closure in wake of the pandemic dictated lock-down. The schools were shut on March 9, more than a week before the first positive case was detected in Srinagar, on March 18. As the cases surged across the country, the detection was followed by a nationwide pandemic lockdown on March 25. The lockdown compelled education to go virtual.

With the pandemic yet not gone, this year, prior to reopening of schools, the authorities issued guidelines asking schools to open in a phased manner and operate in an odd-even formula which requires having only 50 per cent of students on campus on any given day. Also according to the government order, classes 6th to 8th are scheduled to reopen on March 8 while the remaining classes are scheduled to reopen on March 18.

Changed Campuses

Now that the schools have finally started functioning, the students fear that nothing is the same as before. A lot, they say, has changed.

“School was fun before Covid-19. We used to be carefree, confident and happy,” said Huraya, a Government school student. “This feels more like a punishment that we have today; constant fear of contracting the infection, using the sanitizer more than it’s needed, maintaining distance from our friends with whom we would otherwise, hug around and sit in clusters, happy and laughing.”

Covid-19 Appears In Crowded Islamia College

Infections are taking place. In Budgam three schools – Government Middle School, Hanjiguru; IEI School and Mazhar ul Haq High Scool -were asked to remain closed. Islamia College in Srinagar has infections in a section of the faculty. Lately, an employee of a government high school in Srinagar, and seven staff members of a renowned private school have tested Covid-19 positive. Also, a teacher after developing feverish symptoms was advised to get tested and turned to be positive. The reports of positive cases detected in educational institutions scared parents. However, schools have been told to strictly adhere to and follow the Covid-19 guidelines. Even a promoter of a major school is treating his infection in Delhi.

Teachers’ Tensions

A government schoolteacher expressed said it is difficult to follow all Covid-19 SoPs due to the increased number of students in the school.

“We try to make all the students understand the importance of hand-washing and masking up,” the teacher, speaking off the record, said. “Due to insufficient infrastructure and number of students, social distancing becomes a bit difficult. Apart from that, we try our best to follow all guidelines and protocols.”

The teacher added that personally, she thought of the decision of reopening the schools fruitful for the students as they have suffered in the past as well.

Another female teacher from a reputed private institution of Srinagar said: “We have been strictly following Covid-19 protocol. We call students in two groups and instruct them to enter from three different gates of the school so as to avoid crowding.” The teacher also added that a Covid-19 test drive was conducted in their school where all the students, as well as the teachers, tested negative.

Official Speak

As the high profile people are getting vaccinated, the question of teachers getting vaccinated still arises. According to State immunization officer Qazi Haroon, the Government of India guidelines, elderly people and those with morbidities are being vaccinated and that the process has started from March 1. Before that the health care workers and the frontline workers were given the dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

“As of now, we are making sure that elderly people get vaccinated. The vaccination campaign is being run in a phased manner. For now, the Government of India guidelines don’t include teachers,” he said.

The doctor on being asked about children getting vaccinated, said, “we have seen that children are mostly carriers and are not affected by the virus much, but that doesn’t mean that the SOP’s have to be breached. Masks, proper hygiene and social distancing should be strictly followed by both the teachers and the students,” he said.

DAK President Says

“The virus has been around us for a year now,” Dr Suhail Naik, the president of Doctor Association Kashmir (DAK). “In this one-year, we all learned to get accustomed to the new normal of life. Each and every sector resumed its operation while the schools have just started. I see this as a very good step because no child deserves to suffer and be kept void of education. I suggest parents to not panic and train their children to follow the three pillars; hand washing, proper hygiene and social distancing.”

The doctor added that no one has any idea when the pandemic will end adding that, it may take more than we have imagined which makes a very strong point in sending children to schools. “Children are important for nation-building. We can’t risk their education for something we have no control over,” he said.

School Association

The Private Schools’ Association Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK) expressed its concern over the reopening of schools amid pandemic and the government not taking the association of thousands of private schools on board.

“Different schools have different infrastructures and a different number of enrolled students. Before reopening the schools, the government should have taken us on board so that we would provide the exact statistical data of the schools according to which proper arrangements would have been made,” the president PSAJK, GN Var said. “It is suggested that education be made hybrid. In hybrid mode, both online and offline modes of education will be available to be opted by students. Those who can attend schools will, and those who won’t be able to won’t be left devoid of education because of this Hybrid mode.”

The President added that if the government takes the association on board, new ways and means could be suggested regarding the functioning of schools.

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