The Covid-19 pandemic, which has raged for more than 18 months now, has pushed millions of students out of education across India. New admissions have stopped, playschools have shut, students have dropped out, entire schools have disappeared. Numerous studies have shown how the digital divide has caused a faultline in India’s education systems.
Now, as India emerges from the second Covid-19 wave and looks ahead at a possible third wave of hopefully less intensity, calls for reopening schools are growing louder. Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, has said that schools must be opened up in a staggered way, particularly in districts where the Covid-19 positivity rate is less than 5%. The calls to open schools have raised many larger questions.
According to Dr Pritam Chandak, Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist from Synapse Mind Care, “We have spent a whole year trying out various things. And I think as a country, as families and as individuals, we’ve been waiting for a kind of golden moment when suddenly [the pandemic] will be over and the schools will open. I think now at every level, we realise that that is not how it is going to happen. There are going to be stages in this whole process. There may be an on and off [of Covid-19 cases] and therefore we need a flexible response to the eventualities we’ve seen. There is a digital divide, but we had lots of divides before as well. School From Home (SFH) culture has significantly increased mental & Behaviours issues like Depression, Anxiety, Irritability, Aggression, Sleep Disturbances etc”
While suggesting the road ahead he further adds “ Schools used to operate on an annual calendar but now, let’s break that up into quarters, like in many other sectors. We should think that from now till, say, October, till Dussehra, we want our kids to have a certain experience. Plan A is complete lockdown when you have to do remote types of learning; Plan B is when there is limited movement, where schools are open and teachers are coming in but not children; and Plan C, where everything has opened up. The overarching umbrella must be that we need to get our kids back into school. And we need to start feeling comfortable that we can switch from plan A to B to C as the [pandemic] situation demands, which may change at any time and in any location.”
A final point is to say that this plan B situation, which we’ve actually been in for quite some time where teachers are in school but children aren’t, is an ideal time to start the dialogue between parents and children. Invite parents to come to school and if they feel comfortable, take the child along. Because I know teachers are dying to meet children and children are dying to meet teachers. Start that process of reconnecting, reengaging, because there is more to school than just learning. There are all these social relationships, trust, fun that we need to build.