As implementation of the vaccination drive gains momentum it’s time to look into the near future and plan for a post-pandemic world. While we laud the scientists, healthcare workers and frontline workers for their tireless efforts in the last 11 months, we cannot but help count our blessings for living to see the arrival of what is arguably the most awaited vaccine in recent history.

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As a part of the lockdown, along with many other institutions, schools across the country have been shut since the month of March 2019. Now sooner rather than later some necessary but cautious steps will have to be taken to gradually reopen and for normalcy to make a quiet return.

Compiled below are some key ideas and steps to be mindful of while reopening schools.

  1. First and foremost, continued health and hygiene measures are of essence. Even though the young have proven to be less vulnerable to the virus they could be the most active carriers and easily transmit the infection to teachers, parents and other adults. Measures planned for reopening schools must include wearing masks, temperature checks, hand-washing, frequent sanitization and reasonable social distancing rules enforced even for very small children.
  2. Limiting class sizes is another step that comes across as an obvious solution. Erring on the side of caution with children being divided into smaller learning groups may be advisable for some time.
  3. Another option could be a staggered schedule. Reducing class size drastically would obviously mean staggering schedules. One option could of school for each child on alternate days. Another possibility is morning and afternoon shifts.
  4. A question often asked is which age group should go back to school first? In some parts of the country senior classes have already been made functional first largely in view of the board examinations that are due in the early part of the year annually.
  5. New calendars will definitely have to be drawn out as schools go back to a new normal. To make up for the learning days lost while schools were closed, there have been suggestions of starting the next academic session sooner, or continuing through summer, or both.
  6. Some educationists have suggested different attendance policies. There is a likelihood that schools can open up, but some parents might still choose to keep their children at home. A policy of “leniency” for absences during this time may have to be considered. This might not be easy to implement and assessments may become a challenge.
  7. Morning assemblies, sports, games and parent-teacher meets may continue to find themselves in the COVID casualty list for some more time. In the immediate future, students should not be encouraged to mix in large groups, and parents be actively discouraged from spending more than necessary time inside school buildings.
  8. Social, emotional and practical help for children must be viewed as an essential support. Developmental experts say disruption from the pandemic constitutes an “adverse childhood experience”. When schools reopen, ameliorating this trauma will be at the core. This will apply specially to beginners who will start school a year late and may therefore experience inadequacies in the area of social interaction. For some older children too the sudden expectation of social interaction may pose a challenge.
  9. The only affirmative outcome here seems that remote learning will continue. It appears that distance learning or learning from home has not only been the predominant pedagogical support in the last few months but it is here to stay.

Current status of schools

Though the Govt. of India permitted schools to reopen from 15th October 2020, the final decision has been left to the states. While the decision to reopen has come from the Union government, states have been given considerable autonomy in decision-making and planning and implementation of bringing children back to school. Detailed guidelines have been issued explaining the procedures to be followed and the precautions to be taken.

These include wearing of mask, social distancing, and easy availability of running water for hand washing and hand sanitizer in the school premises.
Andhra Pradesh, Assam, and Uttarakhand reopened their schools in November, the attendance has been thin. In December Kerala announced their decision to reopen in first week of January while Delhi has reopened its schools for senior classes in the third week of January.

For more on this please see link below to the order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 30th September, 2020. Among the activities permitted outside the Containment Zones is the re-opening of schools and coaching institutions , after 15th October, 2020, in a graded manner , for which the State/UT Government may take a decision in consultation with the respective school/institution management, based on their assessment of the situation.

Takeaways from the pandemic

Every expert has predicted that the need for remote learning will continue because of staggered schedules. This means training and support for teachers, and appropriate equipment for children. It seems edutech and virtual learning platforms are the solutions the world is now ready for. There are plenty of existing options but almost all of them offer a lot of scope for improvement and upgradation in the near future.

Three major takeaways from the above trends then are:

– Investing in research and development, and updation/creation of state-of-the-art edutech solutions.
– Immediate & intense teacher training and capacity building leading to familiarisation with virtual platforms and ease of delivering remotely.
– Evaluation and assessment tools are set to move up to a prime position as remote teaching/training shall naturally culminate in remote assessment.

Learning objectives must bear fruit as learning outcomes and the future holds endless possibilities for those who have tech-based solutions to present day challenges.

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