Experts divided as schools reopen amid third-wave threat

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As India’s Covid-19 cases decline, various state governments have started to lift restrictions on gatherings in public places, parks, offices, and educational institutions. The likes of Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Puducherry, Lakshadweep, Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh allowed the reopening of schools in the first week of August, while Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh followed suit.

While the active caseload is declining, there is still speculation over the possibility of a third wave. With India bracing itself for a third Covid-19 wave that can hit in the upcoming months, experts are divided on the decision to reopen schools.

DY Patil International School, Pune, Chairman Ajeenkya DY Patil said online instruction had its advantages, but could not plug the gap created by the absence of formal instruction.

He told The Indian Express that schools, colleges, and universities must be reopened, adding that locking campuses had brought unprecedented harm to students. He said there are discussions around the hospitality sector, retail industry, but hardly any conversation about education.

Manju Rana, principal-cum-director of Ghaziabad-based Seth Anandram Jaipuria School said the decision to reopen schools was taken in the interest of students, who have stayed away from face-to-face academic learning and peer-interaction for long.

The teachers and staff members have been vaccinated, strict social distancing protocols, mask-wearing, and sanitisation put in place, she told The Indian Express.

The classes are taking place in shifts so that occupancy can be cut to 50 per cent to ensure social distancing, she added. Rana added that the mental health of students also needed to be considered, and the best way to address that would be to return them to school where they could get the normality of interacting with friends and teachers.

The academics are also divided on the need to reopen schools amid speculations of a likely third wave. Some teachers believe the schools should focus on making the online learning mechanism fool-proof instead of relying on physical classes.

Baljeet Oberoi, the principal of Oakridge International School in Telangana, said it was his responsibility as a principal to ensure the children’s safety and well-being. He added that educational institutions needed to focus more on building a strong and uninterrupted virtual learning structure that productively engaged students instead of creating panic among stakeholders about schools reopening.

The mundane routine and the inability to connect directly with peers has been bothering children as well. As most children find joy in the open fields, being restricted at home is hampering their spirits.

The pandemic and fear of the delta variant have drained them, said Abhisant Panigrahi, a Class VIII student of Bhubaneswar-based SAI International School.

Panigrahi’s seniors in Class IX attend school on alternate days and he hopes schools reopen so that they can go back to their classrooms, play with friends, and have fun.

The toll on children’s social-emotional health and learning loss during the pandemic have been unprecedented.

Khaitan Public School Vice-Chairman Anirudh Khaitan said schools were being reopened with sanitisation rules, mandatory masking, and social distancing all over the world. He said Covid was not going away and everyone had to learn to live with it.

Khaitan, who is also the treasurer for FICCI ARISE, told The Indian Express that children were not exactly sitting at home — they were visiting friends, family, and even restaurants once in a while. Thus, it would only be natural that schools reopened with strict restrictions so that everyone could get back to normality.

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