Defer reopening of schools

Defer reopening of schools

Representative image. Credit: Getty.

The Karnataka government should defer reopening of schools for now. Officials are expected to present Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa with the information and options to consider on the matter on Monday and a decision may be taken immediately. Yes, there is a case for reopening schools as they have been closed since March and online classes haven’t been quite satisfactory from anybody’s point of view — students, parents or teachers. Yes, we are rapidly approaching a time when governments will have to decide whether to declare the current academic year a zero year or to use only online classes and assignments to promote students to the next class. Yet, it’s cold winter now and many parts of the world and the country are seeing a surge in Covid-19 cases, whether one chooses to call it a second wave or a continuation of the first being immaterial.

In Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, a new rise in Covid-19 cases has forced those governments to declare new restrictions such as night curfews. The Centre is rushing special teams to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and other states to help them contain the surge. The Centre is considering not holding the winter session of Parliament at all in view of the situation in Delhi. While Karnataka is said to be seeing a declining curve – as opposed to over 80,000 new cases recorded in the first 20 days of October, the same period in November has seen only just over 21,000 -- Health Minister K Sudhakar has warned of a potential second wave of Covid-19 and has urged people to continue to be cautious and observe measures such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distance.

These measures cannot be effectively observed once schools reopen. When it is being seen that most adults on the streets are not observing these precautions, it would be foolhardy to expect schoolchildren to do so. The experience from reopening colleges must also inform the decision on schools. Colleges have seen very thin attendance since they have reopened, forcing authorities to go back to online classes only. Most students have wisely stayed away from the colleges, given that there is no way to assuredly protect oneself against the spread of the virus. While it is all well to provide guidelines to schools on how to prepare for reopening and conducting classes, one can be sure from the record that these guidelines will be observed mostly in the breach. Providing safe transportation, conducting Covid-19 testing at schools, ensuring that school staff and children maintain precautions at all times are all things that cannot be enforced. Even if they could be done, parents still cannot have the confidence that it is safe to send their children to school.