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Thoughtless Experiments

State government must end flip-flop  on e-learning for school children

IN yet another haphazard decision, the government on Tuesday evening directed the teaching and non-teaching staff of all the schools to resume their duties on Wednesday morning. It is hard to believe how government decisions change overnight! The direction to the teachers to join schools came twenty-four hours after Chief Minister Pramod Sawant had announced that a decision on reopening of schools would be taken after July 15. Taken aback by the sudden decision, the teachers and the non-teaching staff of schools, many of whom use public transport to travel between home and school, had to make hurried arrangements to reach their school in time to avoid any action against them. Some of the staff members got information very late in the night, which was less than 12 hours of their reporting time in schools.  What made the government issue the orders asking the school staff to report to their schools so hurriedly? Could not the government have given them a few days to make arrangements for travel to and fro as public transport in the state has been inadequate over the last few months?

The government has been saying that safety of the people from coronavirus was its prime concern. However, its direction to the school staff to join duty led to compromising their safety from the virus as they have to use public transport in which safe distancing is not being followed. According to reports emerging from some places, school teachers and non-teaching staff had to travel in crowded buses, which exposed them to the risk of contracting the virus. The last-minute order forced several school employees to make their own transport arrangements in order to be on time, which may not be possible on a daily basis. It is apparent that the government wanted to hurry the process to begin imparting education to students at all costs, but it paid scant attention to the safety needs of the school staff on buses and in their institutions.

What is puzzling is that the government has gone back on its decision on online teaching: the latest circular issued by the government clearly states that the teachers have to not only teach online wherever possible, but also offline. This has put schools in an awkward position as they had told the parents not to buy costly smartphones after the Chief Minister announced that online education was not compulsory. It would in any case be humanly impossible for teachers to take online classes as well as reach out to students who are not equipped with e-learning devices as desired by the education department, especially in the rural areas which have very little public transport on a daily basis. How will the teachers reach out to students in places which are far-off from the schools on a daily basis without exposing themselves to the threat of contracting the virus? All this raises serious questions over the manner in which decisions on vital issues of education, safety of children and teachers are being taken by the authorities.

It has to be noted that a good number of teachers are in the age group of 55 years and above, who despite being vulnerable have not been exempted from duties as without them the teaching and learning process would be incomplete. Could not the authorities have made arrangements for online education in every nook and corner of the state by setting up adequate infrastructure? Could they not have subsidised purchase of e-learning devices for students whose parents could not afford to buy them? What makes the government take decisions which could have disastrous effects for the teachers and the students and their families? Though it is necessary that the school curriculum has to be completed in time, the same cannot be done by putting the lives of teachers and students at risk. The new circular betrays lack of hard and realistic thinking on the part of whoever might be the people advising the education department and whoever in the education department might be taking decisions for the government. The least that can be said of  government decision making on school education in the time of coronavirus is that it has been a bewildering series of thoughtless experiments.

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