Monday, 6 December, 2021

Challenges Of Reopening In-Person Classes

Bharat Chand


The decision to resume classes physically after the imposition of lockdown since March 2019 has once become talk of the town. Media, public forums and unions associated with educational sector are divided over the decision to resume in-person classes starting January 14 (Magh 1). Private and Boarding School’s Organisation (PABSON) has cordially welcomed the move by the government while the parent’s organisation and health experts have rejected it, stating that opening in-person classes might help increase the COVID-19 cases. Creating a fearless environment for students, teachers, non-teaching staffs and far-reaching effects of opening schools must be taken into consideration before we adhere to the step taken by the government.

The decision to reopen the face-to-face classes is a welcoming note. However, there are certain measures which should have been taken into consideration prior to making a firm decision by the government. Imparting psychological counselling at least through virtual mode by school operators or the responsible authorities to students with access to internet could have proved fruitful had they organised it for easing the suffocation that students and teachers have been going through. Readiness at attending the class on the part of students is important among all to consider. How far have the students been ready to physically attend the classes determines how well we have mentally prepared them through counselling and guidance. Neither authorities nor the school operators have done such preparations which would have eased the situation and made the environment conducive for running the in-person classes. Discussions on resuming classes through maintaining physical distancing or virtual mode with parents, ensuring the safety of students and teachers could motivate the parents to send their children without fear. Another issue is associated with proper sanitisation of classrooms in the presence of health experts.
Attending schools physically will not be regarded as an achievement until and unless the course contents to be covered is not decided. Are we pursuing the same course content we used to pursue prior to the coronavirus pandemic or have we redesigned it? We do not have much time to run classes for the current academic session. These are the basic questions to be realised before reopening schools. Many education experts have called for preparing the course content viable to be taught by realising the current scenario. They have also urged the government to prioritise on strengthening behavioural skills being learnt at home. Newness in applying teaching methods and approaches supported by newly designed course content can help make students be more attentive in the classroom. The failure to the adoption new course content might derail the attention of students towards learning, impacting the whole effort put in place.
After learning about the decision taken by the government to reopen schools, public health experts in Nepal have suggested that the government should not be in a hurry to resume in-person classes in schools as the new virus diagnosed in some European countries and the possible appearance of the second wave of coronavirus in the country might trigger COVID-19 infections. It may be worth recalling here that the Trump Administration did not follow the advice given by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on imposing lockdown in the USA on time. Consequently, the USA saw a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, affecting larger number of people in ensuing months. At the same time, it is mandatory to think over the cancellation of classes once the coronavirus infections diagnosed among students and teachers. Teaching staffs as well as non-teaching staffs must be insured and given assurance that the concerns schools will cover their treatment cost once any of them falls in a critical condition. Besides, it is equally important to apply the basics to check the fever level and other symptoms of one and all before they are allowed to enter the school premises.
Schools should also be regulated by government authorities to know whether the health safety measures are in tandem with WHO standards or not. The mandatory approach to ensuring safety to students, giving health a high priority can help parents feel satisfied and can relentlessly send their children to school. The proponents of reopening schools argue it is unnecessary to keep schools closed when various other sectors have opened up. The assembly of students hundreds in number for six to eight or even more hours in a fixed place is not similar to the assembly of staffs of an office that consists of very few. Moreover, the staffs in the office have different chambers, qualifying them to be less infected due to the physical distancing maintained while the students and teachers remain in close contact constantly and have a high chance of getting infected.

Health safety
Thousands of students staying at home for months should be assured that schools have adopted all the safety measures, ventured a new horizon of learning and developed new skills. It is equally important that school operators should accord high priority to maintaining safe environment for students, teachers and non-teaching staffs. Their motto must not be raising fees alone. They should be able to take the parents into confidence by applying all possible health safety measures in this time of the global pandemic.

(The author is an independent researcher as well as teaching faculty working in colleges affiliated with several universities.