Board Exam Students; List of States where schools closed

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With Delhi and states like Haryana and Maharashtra directing schools to shut down due to the spike in Covid-19 cases, this academic session — which otherwise begins in April — is likely to run in the online mode, at least for some more time. While schools were planning a blended mode of online and offline learning, many are now apprehensive of delayed and curtailed fee payment and increased learning gaps. Most schools, however, claim they are better prepared to handle online classes this session.

What do parents want?

Most schools have done internal surveys asking parents whether they want their ward to return to school.

Madhu Singh, principal, Billabong High International School, Mumbai, said parents are not ready to send children to school. “With the online classes they know that learning is happening and there is no academic loss. They are all waiting to be vaccinated. With the second wave of coronavirus, we will have to wait till June until we think of reopening our schools,” she said.

A recent survey by community engagement platform LocalCircles has found a dip in parents’ confidence regarding reopening of schools. Only 25 per cent of parents are willing to send their children to school in April. The rise in cases has led 73 per cent to believe that schools should be only reopened if there are less than 100 active cases in a district. In January, the percentage of parents hoping for schools to resume offline classes was 73 per cent. The survey had around 18,000 respondents from 272 districts, of which 44 per cent were from metros and tier-1 districts, 28 per cent from tier-2 districts, and 28 per cent from Tier-3 and 4 or rural districts.

How schools are prepping up

For now schools plan to continue with the online classes for April till they get further directives. At present, they are keeping campus sanitised for the board exam students.

Shishir Jaipuria, chairman, Seth Anandram Jaipuria Group of Educational Institutions, said they will reopen in a phased manner following government’s guidelines. “We will first allow the secondary and senior secondary students and then move on to reopening the primary and preschools,” he said.

Most school principals said teachers and staff are fully prepared to make students aware of the need to follow all these safety rules.

“Teachers will be periodically tested for Covid infection and all of them are required to be vaccinated before giving classes to students. We don’t yet have any rule for the mandatory testing of students for Covid, but all students, teachers and staff will undergo thermal screening upon entering school campus,” said Jaipuria.

To start with, schools might introduce a new time table that lets students attend school on alternate days so that there is no crowding on the campus. “A new seating plan in classrooms will ensure social distancing during classes. Morning assemblies or any get-togethers are going to be scrapped for a few months at least,” he said.

Challenges ahead

Parents and schools were at odds over fee payment last academic session because of which the government and the high courts had to intervene. This year, while some schools were reportedly planning to increase the fee, others are pondering on how to manage expenses with just tuition fees.

Charu Wahi, principal, Nirmal Bhartia School, Delhi told indianexpress.com that hiring has been halted and it will not be easy to run schools this academic year. “We won’t survive on the fee we get. Last year, we just got the tuition fees. We managed to pay salaries to our staff throughout the last academic year from our reserves. Our deficit has grown and this will further affect the quality of staff and enthusiasm of teachers,” said she.

Parents, on the other hand, are apprehensive about the fee hike. “A Delhi school where my cousin studies is demanding full fees for the 2020 academic year. This is against the government’s order. Also why should we pay charges other than the tuition fee?” said Madhu Priti, a parent.

Online classes? All is well

While some of the recent reports highlighted the struggle educators faced in delivering education through digital mediums, schools in the cities are assuring that they are better equipped to handle online education this year.

As per an online survey conducted by ed-tech company Learning Spiral, two out of every five teachers lack the necessary devices to deliver education digitally. The situation is particularly grave in UP and Chhattisgarh where 80 per cent and 67 per cent of teachers respectively lack the requisite devices.

“Right from donating tablets for children and setting up wi-fi for teachers, we invested in technology. So by July 2020, we were completely ready for the online classes. Therefore, learning will not be as testing as it was last year,” Wahi assured.

Educators are also concerned about the learning gaps. “In subjects like English, history you can discuss with students and can take it forward, but maths, computer science and science need more face-to-face interaction. Teaching these subjects have taken a hit during the pandemic time. We need to carefully bridge these gaps,” said she.



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