From revamping infrastructure to meet COVID-19 guidelines to preparing an "effective" time-line for completing syllabus, schools in Delhi-NCR are taking several steps to resume formal classes in a safe environment when they reopen after nearly six months.
While several restrictions have been eased gradually in different phases of "Unlock" since June 8, educational institutions continued to remain closed.
From revamping infrastructure to meet COVID-19 guidelines to preparing an “effective” time-line for completing syllabus, schools in Delhi-NCR are taking several steps to resume formal classes in a safe environment when they reopen after nearly six months. While the Centre has allowed graded reopening of schools from October 15, the Delhi government has extended the closure of schools till October 31 in view of the coronavirus pandemic. In the National Capital Region (NCR), a few schools have reopened for students from classes 9 to 12 to come on a voluntary basis to seek academic guidance. NCR covers the whole of Delhi and certain districts of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
“The shift in the mindset of students, teachers and non-teaching staff is the primary impact of repeated extensions in school reopening. We will be fully supportive of the government’s decision, but assertiveness is needed amid these new guidelines and notifications,” Principal, Delhi Public School, Sageeta Hajela, told PTI. The Centre on March 16 had announced closure of all educational institutions, including schools, colleges and universities, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. On March 25, a nationwide lockdown was announced by the government.
While several restrictions have been eased gradually in different phases of “Unlock” since June 8, educational institutions continued to remain closed. “The school management understands the major transition young minds will be going through with the amalgamation of online-offline studies and therefore, needs a certain time-line to prepare infrastructure and teaching staff accordingly. Once a definitive declaration is made by the government only then can we effectively plan conducting our exams and completing our syllabus,” Hajela said. Pro-vice chairperson, Pacific World School, Nidhi Bansal, said that these are daunting times for students and teachers, “as they were accustomed to classroom learning”.
“In a matter of a few days, the entire framework shifted its base to virtual learning platforms,” she said referring to the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown. “However, the news about reopening of schools is doing the rounds, but no firm decision has come through. The authorities have issued guidelines. We have revamped infrastructure and prepared our staff, but a definitive time-line is a must to get things going. It is only creating an atmosphere of confusion, which is affecting syllabus and the academic calendar planning,” Bansal said. Several school managements said that even if schools reopen, parents are not willing to send their children yet and therefore, they are working on an alternative plan of action.
Principal, Modern Public School, Alka Kapur, said that according to a survey that “we have conducted, approximately 98 per cent of parents are not willing to send their children to schools yet, fearing that they would contract COVID-19”. “Though we have taken all necessary precautions to ensure safety and well-being of students inside the school’s premises, the concerns of parents are understandable,” she said. “We have realised that even if schools reopen, classes would have to be conducted in a staggered manner where only a certain number of students would be allowed to enter the classroom. We will be relying heavily on blended learning,” Kapur said.
To compensate for the commotion and chaos the pandemic has caused, the syllabus has been reduced by 30 per cent. This will significantly reduce the pressure on students and would allow teachers to take their time and teach important concepts in details, she said. The Education Ministry released guidelines on Monday for reopening of schools and these included thorough cleaning and disinfecting of campuses, flexibility in attendance, no assessment for up to three weeks and ensuring smooth transition from home-based schooling to formal schooling.
It also asked states and union territories to frame their own standard operating procedures for health and safety. “Virtual learning has been a drastic transformation for every student and teacher. Teachers have to strategise and rework on the already laid syllabus planning. The reopening announcement has been made for students of higher classes and they need more attention and preparation through pre-board exams. They need to understand a particular section’s weightage pattern and question-paper solving,” Principal, Delhi International School, Priyanka Barara said.
These activities are essential and can be carried out in schools post-reopening, but “the repeated extensions are delaying plans and causing the school management to revisit and reconsider its academic calendar plans to not lose time in hand”, she said. Pallavi Upadhyaya, Principal, DPS Ghaziabad, believes that reopening of schools has to be a gradual process because of multiple factors. “The announcement for reopening is for students appearing for board examinations and they are already in a topsy-turvy mindset,” she said. School authorities and teaching staff have also additional responsibilities of compiling, collating and sorting study material for them, Upadhyaya said. “Major attention from teaching staff has to be on not letting apprehension get in their way, but the repeated extensions are doing that,” she said.