Safe Learning At School

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Government must constantly review the SOP for classroom teaching 

THE department of education has issued a health protocol and standard operating procedure to be observed by schools when they reopen for SSC and HSSC classes from November 21. The schools have been shut since March in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Though the new academic year began in June, there has been no classroom teaching and students are being taught online. With a full term lost due to the pandemic and the online classes falling short of expectations, the government has decided to reopen schools for imparting education for the students studying in SSC and HSSC classes in order to help them prepare for board examinations. Though schools have been imparting online classes there have been cases of many students not getting access to teaching because of poor internet connectivity. It was perhaps because of this shortcoming that the authorities have decided to reopen schools for the students who would have to answer board exams. 

The education department through a circular has directed the managements of schools that there should not be more than 12 students in a batch and that classes be held in a staggered manner. As more than 40 students are admitted in each class in most of the schools, the teachers will have to teach the same subject at least four times to cover all the students in different batches. This is likely to put additional stress on the teachers and there is possibility that they may not be able to cope with additional pressure. The onus on ensuring physical distance has been put on the school managements and the parents. The schools have also been directed to ensure proper sanitization of their premises, including common facilities like laboratories, libraries, etc and maintain various other protocols. The daily and frequent deep cleaning of classrooms and bathrooms as per the SOP would need additional manpower and the government should give additional funds to the managements to hire hands for the purpose.

The government has said that all employees who are perceived at higher risk, like the elderly ones, pregnant women and those with medical conditions should not be exposed to any frontline work requiring direct contact with students. We will have to see how school managements arrive at a decision which employees will fall under these categories and hope their decision is fair.  As most teachers are knowledgeable in their subjects, getting others to substitute them may hamper the teaching and learning process and should be avoided. The shortfall can be made up by hiring adequately trained temporary staff but this will incur additional expenditure. Will the government make provision for salaries of the temporary staff? There is also the possibility of some students having medical conditions that could adversely affect their health when they start attending classes in groups. The school managements have to maintain care and caution in that regard. The bus transportation has not improved in Goa and students would be compelled to travel in crowded buses which could expose them to asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus.

Given the fact that the students of SSC and HSSC would be answering board exams, their teaching has to be systematic and result oriented. As online teaching is in the nascent stage in the state it will take time before it can substitute classroom teaching. Poor internet connectivity also results in students being unable to get online, thus losing out on learning. Though the government promised to improve internet connectivity, it miserably failed in fulfilling the promise, which is one of the reasons behind their  decision to start classroom teaching. Though a decision has been taken to start classroom teaching, it should be the endeavour of the government and school managements to ensure both the learning and safety of the students. It should not be forgotten that the decision of some states, like Manipur and Andhra Pradesh, to start classroom teaching led to the spread of COVID-19 resulting in hundreds of cases among students and teachers. Caution is the key to the success of classroom teaching. The government should review the situation in schools within a week of their reopening in order to modify the SOP in the light of experience.