With a rise in the number of school-age children contracting the coronavirus in India, especially in Delhi and neighboring areas, the demand to close schools and cancel exams is back.
Fearing fundamental learning losses, schools have tightened Covid-19 rules, with most of them returning masks before government mandates and suspending group activities such as morning meetings and closed-room gatherings for seminars, among others.
India, which witnessed one of the largest school closures in the world due to the pandemic, has only recently reopened campuses.
One in three children in grades 1 and 2 have never taught in person, according to the 2021 Annual Education Status Survey (ASER). Students have been studying in online mode since mid-March 2020. Now, experts believe that schools should remain open because they were never part of the problem.
“If we carefully analyze the duration of the pandemic, it is clear that schools have played no role in the spread of the virus. The risk has gone beyond schools; markets, outings, functions and festivities are all platforms where children were exposed. The virus is spreading regardless of the opening of schools,” said Naman Jain, education expert and principal, Silverline Prestige School, Ghaziabad, who currently runs the school in accordance with the strict Covid-19 protocol.
Letting kids go to malls and family gatherings but closing schools is an absurd idea for Dr. Ashutosh Singa, additional director of pediatrics at Noida’s Fortis Hospital. Singa says schools should remain open and a decision on closure should be made after consulting data points.
“Children had milder effects of Covid-19 during all three waves. Most children already have natural antibodies,” the doctor said, adding: “During the third wave, when schools were closed, we had a lot of kids who tested positive for coronavirus. Most of them had been exposed to the virus through an adult going out at home.”
Singa also said that children are not only faced with the fear of contracting the coronavirus, but are also being pushed into various health conditions, including screen addiction and behavioral changes. He said the number of children coming to his hospital for anxiety-related problems has increased since the start of the pandemic, while for most children who get Covid-19, recovery rates are faster and the need for hospitalization is low.
Schools also believe that protection against the coronavirus goes further than imposing restrictions on campus. Anshu Mital, director of Rohini’s MRG School, said: “We are doing everything we can to contain the spread of Covid-19. We are also prioritizing students’ mental and emotional health by engaging counselor-led wellness personnel to help solve children’s problems and also allay parents’ fears.”
The school also encourages children to be vaccinated. However, the principal said “trust is a two-way relationship between the administration and the parents” and the school is conducting awareness campaigns with parents to ensure Covid-appropriate behavior is followed at home as well.
After all, schools are where children belong, said Ameeta Mohan, Amity International School director Pushp Vihar. Mohan says she has taken multiple orientations to motivate both students and parents to attend offline classes, as she believes they are beneficial for students and a way to fill learning gaps. Reassurance and confidence in parents and constant follow-up by teachers are provided to reduce school absenteeism, she said.
“Students are happy to be back on campus and enjoy study, activities and meeting their friends. Finally, the hallways are buzzing with laughter and happiness. We’re happy to be at school, where we belong,” she said.
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