Assessing COVID-19 risk, ensuring mental wellbeing is crucial as schools and colleges reopen

November 11, 2021 9:16 PM

Most school authorities are already doing their best to prevent COVID-19, however, it helps to have a specialized COVID-19 risk audit to assess the situation.

school reopeningNeedless to say, an assessment will require more commitment from the schools and colleges in terms of time, while also increasing the cost burden. (File)

By Suresh Tanwar

The receding COVID-19 wave is bringing some cheer with schools and colleges opening their doors to welcome students back. While parents and students are heaving a sigh of relief, there is also an unmistakable air of anxiety. After all, it was only a few months ago that the dreaded pandemic second wave had ravaged the country. With schools having been closed for over a year and a half and the normal routines of children disrupted during this period, experts agree that the mental health and well-being of children is a crucial concern. Among parents, it is the anxiety regarding the health and safety of their wards. To allay these fears and ensure peace of mind to students and parents alike, schools would do well to take certain proactive measures in health, safety, and mental wellbeing.

Schools should consider a COVID-19 Assurance Assessment

Most school authorities are already doing their best to prevent COVID-19, however, it helps to have a specialized COVID-19 risk audit to assess the situation. Such an audit, done by an external expert, provides a comprehensive and methodical approach to the whole process. The assessment involves putting a framework in place with robust safety protocols and arrangements designed to effectively manage the risk of COVID-19 as far as is reasonably possible within the school premises.

A COVID-19 assurance assessment will help with developing guidelines and control measures to gauge the correct situation. These guidelines are developed in close conjunction with the school authorities and tailored to suit the needs of the school or college. The framework includes assessing risks, planning control measures, allocating roles and responsibilities, implementing, and maintaining controls, communication, and training, monitoring effectiveness, and reviewing and revising arrangements.

The assessment is a deep dive process that will include students, teachers, staff members, and all non-teaching staff like engineering/maintenance, catering, drivers and other administrative staff. The auditor will provide a detailed assessment of the safety guidelines by taking tours of the school, examining documentation, and assessing safety especially in computer and science laboratories, dining space, assembly area, and other spaces within the premises. The objective of the exercise will be to work out ways on how to minimise the risk of transmission of infection, keep personal contact to a minimum, improve health control and surveillance, maintain social distancing protocols, personal hygiene, use personal protective equipment where needed, and ensure high standards of workplace cleaning and ventilation. The assessment will help school authorities to decide whether they have done everything that is needed to keep the premises safe and suggest areas for improvement.

A good assurance assessment should follow guidelines based on the current best practices in occupational health and safety guidelines issued by The World Health Organisation (WHO), The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE), The European Commission and the protocols prescribed by The Government of India and local Municipal Corporations.

Mitigating Covid-19 risk should be a priority

Needless to say, an assessment will require more commitment from the schools and colleges in terms of time, while also increasing the cost burden. However, it may be a small price to pay for achieving a higher safety benchmark for our children. It may also seem daunting at first, but thankfully, the authorities can now seek professional help that is available in this area.

The wellbeing of parents and students especially have been impacted due to the sudden shift to online classes and now after one and a half years they will be getting back to classroom learning. Children were showing signs of anxiety due to restrictive movements and not being able to play and socialize with friends. So, schools should consider counselling support sessions suitable to cater to the needs of the parents and teachers.

Undoubtedly, ensuring that our students stay healthy and safe will go a long way in helping reduce anxiety as they get back to school. With the health and safety issues taken care of, schools and parents meanwhile can focus more on the educational, social, and emotional needs of the students as they resume their normal academic lives post-pandemic.

(The author is Head of Audit and Consultancy, British Safety Council-India. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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