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CHALLENGES & BENEFITS AROUND REOPENING SCHOOLS

The nationwide lockdown had forced all of us and our children to confine ourselves inside our home and shift to remote working and remote learning. We all have smoothly transitioned and accepted this new normal as a necessary step towards containing the virus and ensuring continuity of learning. But we all know that opening school is the first step towards normalcy, in this changing world.

And here comes  the most confounding question which every parent is grappling with: IS IT SAFE TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL?

As schools and parents navigate this complicated situation around reopening, we at Vega Schools, ranked by Educationworld (2020-21) among The Top 5 schools in Gurgaon, present before our parents a set of benefits and challenges involved around school reopening. We feel that this article will help them make an informed decision for their child.

According to Indian Express, The pandemic had led to the closure of 1.5 million schools and impacted 24 crore students across India.

Most children are hoping to return to school. A school is about much more than just learning and writing exams. It’s about running around the campus, playing with friends, spending time with favourite teachers and so much more. 

Vega Schools, was ranked by ‘We are Gurgaon’ as the best school in Gurgaon (2020) because of its PBL (Problem-Based Learning) Pedagogy offering a CBSE curriculum. Our pedagogical approach requires children to work in teams, move around the open classrooms, and interact with each other to apply knowledge to solve real world problems. In this student-centered teaching style, our teachers (known as learning leaders) act as facilitators. While fortunately we have been successful in replicating this model online, we also feel that our children miss the physical connection especially the younger children.

CHALLENGES AROUND REOPENING SCHOOLS

Our children are eagerly hoping to return to school. And so are the parents, as long as they are convinced it is safe for the family (especially if they have aged grandparents living at home). This reality poses a lot of challenges that must be surmounted and questions that must be answered before reopening schools.

  • How will the children go to school? Will they avail the normal school transport, if yes what will the sitting agreement be like and what measures will be taken to keep the bus and the travelers sanitised and safe?
  • How do we ensure that (especially) younger children keep their masks on during class hours? It will be a task for the teachers, for sure. Children are after all children. The same applies to social distancing among other age-groups.
  • How to track all the children and staff in case one of them catches the virus. It requires a comprehensive monitoring and tracking system. Workarounds are tedious and time/resource intensive?
  • Will the parents blame the school if, despite all the measures, an infection is spread?
  • How to make sure that the infected staff or children (even if asymptomatic) continue with virtual classes so that he/she doesn’t miss the curriculum?
  • What will be the protocols to ensure that children are safe outside the classrooms/learning areas, like the playground, cafeteria, washrooms, etc?
  • How many children to accommodate in one classroom/learning area if a staggered arrangement is made? 
  • Shall we continue with online classes? Especially since young children cannot engage for long periods with remote teachers and peers; they need in-person support beyond a point. 
  • How long can parents continue to supervise and support their children’s learning and growth full-time at home? Especially since parents have always relied on the pedagogical developmental and in-person expertise that trained educators provide.
  • Will the steps necessary to mitigate risk in schools be a huge logistical and financial challenge?
  • Children may be lower-risk for COVID-19, but is there zero risk?
  • Will parents be reluctant to send children to school because of the fear of getting infected?
  • How long will children continue with offline classes? Given that children’s mental health & wellbeing has been significantly affected. 
  • The fear of the virus is deeply rooted now, so before engaging them in academics, schools will have to deal with behavioural issues, from our children. This requires whole new training and management. How quickly can schools adapt?

Having discussed the Challenges, we cannot ignore the benefits of schools reopening. Opening of schools is the only way of getting back to normal for most children. 

BENEFITS OF SCHOOLS REOPENING

  • Physical schools provide children with necessary social bonds and emotional connections which have been missing since the lockdown began. These help in the social-emotional development and the overall development of a child.
  • Children will finally be able to connect with those other than their family members and develop strong relationships – this plays an important part in developing their interpersonal skills and in their overall happiness.
  • Schools provide academic benefits and access to co-curricular activities, projects, sports, free play and other activities that are essential for all round development of children. 
  • Many schools have counselors that help with the mental well-being and special needs of children. These also serve as an outlet for students dealing with social and/or emotional challenges that may hinder their ability to learn and grow into healthy individuals. 
  • Children also need close friends with whom they can play as well as share their joys and sorrows. 
  • Schools also play a role of an affordable/reliable child care and reopening would ease the strain on parents who are not only handling their work but also their children.
  • Reopening will surely help support the most vulnerable children, special needs children and children who require differentiated learning. 

One one hand children’s returning to school is essential, not only because of the educational, social, and developmental benefits for children themselves but also for the long-term economic health of the country. 

Children thrive in a setting (school) that is designed for their care, active and engaged learning, and healthy development.

No matter how much we debate this topic, there are no easy answers. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution and will require close coordination and cooperation of students, staff and parents.

Arguments range from the scientific to physical and emotional health issues. The ultimate decision to send children to schools lies in the hands of parents. The best interest of every child should be at the center of this decision, factoring the best available evidence.

We are aware of the psychological, behavioral and educational impact of not opening schools. We are also concerned about the rise in extra screen time, mental health, frustration, and behavioral changes in our children. 

All stakeholders will have to be cautious and to make a calibrated move to nudge pandemic preparation by the schools and the parental preparedness to take calculated risks. 

The vaccines will make a huge difference. Already data from countries such as Israel where almost 40% of the population has been vaccinated, is highly encouraging. 

A middle path might very well be hybrid learning, or Learning by rotation, which is the combination of in class learning and online (distance) learning. Students can alternate between days in schools and days at home. 

Schools with open learning spaces and air filters are known to significantly lower the risks. Schools will also need to invest in UV disinfectants and other innovative disinfecting technologies. 

Vega Schools, one of the best schools in Gurugram will be ready when our parents are ready.