It is good to hear that the state government has begun preparations for opening of colleges and schools. The Commissioner of Education has written to Registrars of DM University and Manipur Technical University, Controller of Technical Education among others to submit a detailed report on level of vaccination in each school and college at the earliest and also asked the heads of the departments concerned to impress upon both teaching and non-teaching staff under their departments for vaccination at the earliest, if not done yet. Among various measures, vaccination of all teaching and non-teaching staff (preferably in two doses) is being considered to ensure safety in schools/colleges. Well, the government circular talks about data on vaccination for the teaching and non-teaching staff only while it is silent on the students.
Just after the first wave, the state School Education department had come up with a standard operating procedure (SOP) for re-opening the schools in line with the guidelines of the Union Ministry of Education. It was divided into two parts. One, Health, hygiene and safety. Second, learning with physical and social distancing. Fair enough. The intent on safety was clear, even though the implementation part was certainly going to be tricky for lack of resources and adequate infrastructure in our schools.
The first hurdle was providing adequate space for maintaining physical distancing. The present number of classrooms in our schools would not be enough to put physical distancing into practice. For those government schools with only a few students, spacing would not be a problem, but for some reputed government high schools or higher secondary schools there simply would not be enough classrooms to implement the SOP.
More so, in the case of a multitude of private schools with thousands of students on their rolls, which are today run like factories or broiler farms. Many of them are commercial ventures for some self-styled educationists. Some of the private schools are even styled in the form of composite farms with their own paddy fields, vegetable and fish farms, poultry and piggery units for catering to the hostels run by the school establishments. In providing adequate space for physical distancing, the private establishments would certainly be hiking the school fees. It would be the same with the school van services. And the burden would fall on the parents and guardians.
So, while strict enforcement of the SOP in private schools is required, the main focus of the government now should be on development of infrastructure of government schools. If need be, we may take advantage of the special Covid-19 requirements to seek additional funds.
On the preparations for opening schools and colleges, it is not enough for the teaching and non-teaching staff to be vaccinated. What about the students? For those students of 18 and above years, many of them were fairly vaccinated, if not all. So, it might be possible to collect data on college going students. On the other hand, most of the students in the schools, including higher secondary schools are under the age of 18, who are not yet eligible for vaccination.
Online class is no fun and solitary. It is counter-productive to the overall personality development of a child. Schooling requires physical classes and the companionship that it offers. So, every parent wants their children to go to school. It is the pandemic restrictions which are stopping them. And, one must remember that schools cannot be opened on a piece-meal basis. No students should be left out while the schools and colleges reopen again.