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Students return amid strict safety measures

Enforcing Covid-appropriate behaviour on campus and conducting hybrid classes is a huge challenge, say school managements
Last Updated : 30 October 2021, 08:41 IST
Last Updated : 30 October 2021, 08:41 IST
Last Updated : 30 October 2021, 08:41 IST
Last Updated : 30 October 2021, 08:41 IST
Last Updated : 30 October 2021, 08:41 IST
Last Updated : 30 October 2021, 08:41 IST

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Most schools in the city have resumed offline classes while offering online classes at the same time. Schools have been cautious and have chosen to open the classes in phases. While some schools have permitted only students from higher classes to join back, others have allowed primary classes till middle school to come in.

The National Public School (NPS), Kalkere, recently opened classes 9 and 11. The school management is not looking at having primary classes on campus soon because parents are still apprehensive of sending their wards. Shyla Purushotam, principal, NPS Kalkere, tells Metrolife, “Only 50 per cent of the students from higher classes are on campus. We also have the option of online classes and some of them have opted for that. We will slowly start classes 7 and 8, but this will be done in phases.”

Shyla says wearing a mask in the school is mandatory at all times and social distancing within the classrooms (in terms of seating arrangements) and on the campus are strictly enforced. “The temperature of every student is checked before they enter the campus,” she adds.

But enforcing Covid-appropriate behaviour on campus has become a huge challenge. With the staff-student ratio still weak, enforcing the rules requires additional effort, says Sreepriya Unnikrishnan, head of school, Ekya School, JP Nagar.

“It’s not like before. The process of getting back to school has changed. It starts with a consent form and a letter of declaration stating that all the family members are vaccinated. A temperature check is done at the entrance and recorded, and inside classrooms, teachers are required to keep a watch on them at all times,” she says.

A similar protocol is followed at Greenwood High International School, Varthur, says Aloysius D’Mello, principal. While getting the students to wear masks and use sanitisers regularly is easy, it is the social distancing part that is a challenge, he tells Metrolife.

“We’re social animals, social distancing is not something we’re in sync with. We try to ensure all students follow it but they’re kids after all,” he adds.

The staff shortage has been a major issue post the second wave of Covid-19 and schools have been forced to function with limited classes.

“Many teachers have not been able to come back for offline classes for various reasons. But now, as we’re seeing a good turn out of students, we’re looking to recruit more staff,” adds Sreepriya.

Hybrid classes, a challenge

Hybrid classes require teachers to conduct classes both online and offline. “We have already been conducting hybrid classes to ensure the education of the students, who aren’t attending offline classes, is not affected,” says D’Mello.

While transitioning back to offline classes is already a challenge, the added pressure of hybrid classes is a worrisome situation for teachers. Sreepriya agrees and says, “Many parents are still worried about sending kids back to school, especially kids in the grades 1 to 5. So we need to provide the option of hybrid classes. This will be new ground for us.” Hence, the school is postponing the plans to reopen classes 1 to 5.

Suseela Santhosh, director, Vishwa Vidyapeeth, Singanayakanahalli, also expresses concern regarding hybrid teaching. “Giving attention to both the students in class and those who are at home, online, is going to be a real challenge for teachers. It will become very hectic,” she tells Metrolife.

She believes it’s time for kids to return to school. “This will not only help improve their academics but also have a positive impact on their confidence and mental health,” she says.

Even Shyla counts hybrid teaching as their biggest challenge right now. “Teachers interact with both sets of students to make sure they understand. The last few minutes are always reserved for clearing doubts and taking questions, if any, from those attending online classes,” she explains the process.

She hopes the vaccination for children hits the market soon. “Parents are apprehensive about sending their children to school because there’s no vaccination yet. We hope at least one dose is made available to the children. This will offer some protection,” adds Shyla.

Parents are divided

Parents across the city have taken sides and signed the consent forms sent out by schools, either agreeing to send their children for offline classes or giving consent to continue in the online mode.

Roopa Sebastian, an IT professional and mother of a class 12 student, says that she was happy to let her ward attend offline classes.

A resident of Horamavu, Roopa says “This age group is old enough to follow Covid guidelines and understand the importance of wearing a mask at all times and maintaining social distance. Our son has seen how strict we are at home and he has been tuned to follow all guidelines. We also make sure he takes enough precautions after he returns because we have aged people at home and we don’t want him bringing any possible infections.”

She feels that children will also have to learn how to live with the virus.

However, Ayesha Jameel is not keen on sending her teenage son back to school, fearing a lack of protocol on the school premises.

“It is scary out there. While I can ensure my child follows all protocols, there is no guarantee that everyone else around him will.”

“There are many factors that come into play. For example, we have no proof if all the private cab drivers are vaccinated, or if the school is sanitised every day,” the resident of Rankanagar says.

Expert speaks

Dr Swarnarekha Bhat, former professor of Paediatrics and Neonatology at St John’s National Academy of Health sciences, Bengaluru, and advisor to Trawello Healthcare, says reopening schools after a spell of two years will trigger a lot of excitement among children because they are returning to a familiar environment after a long time. But the hear of third wave looms large.

She says the only way to overcome the fear of children contracting Covid is to vaccinate them. “This will take some more time, but vaccines will eventually be available for children. Till then, and even when children are vaccinated, schools should provide a safe environment. Evaluating each and every school for school readiness to prevent Covid will go a long way in allaying anxiety of school authorities, parents and children,” she says.

She suggests a few pointers on how schools can ensure a safe experience. “Adherence to Covid protocols should include temperature check, hand-washing hygiene, appropriate mask use, social distancing, cleaning and disinfection protocols, and appropriate response when there is a problem. Ideally, all schools should also have a health care personnel and a designated area for isolation and emergency management. It would help to have counsellors who can recognise and address mental health issues in children in schools. This will help address their fears,” she says.

She feels the public health department should introduce an objective assessment scoring system to evaluate and certify schools for their readiness to prevent Covid or for that matter any other preventable diseases. “The education and health departments, school managements, and parent associations must embrace this approach to feel confident to let children resume offline classes,” she advises.

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Published 29 October 2021, 19:34 IST

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