School reopening: Parents play it safe

The article was published in the edition dated November 15, 2021.

While some parents have no qualms about letting their children return to learning in the physical space, many others are wary. I spoke to a few of them to know the reasons behind their decision.

The drop in COVID-19 cases and rising vaccination figures bode well for wary parents and their children across the country. Gradually schools are reopening, with a few of them opting for a hybrid model — offline and online — for students who don’t wish to attend physical classes can log in and take virtual lessons.  

The much-awaited move marks the slow return of normal life for children. While some parents still have reservations about reopening schools and sending their children to attend classes in the physical space, most of them agreed that what the child could do sitting in a classroom can never match what the child does sitting in front of the screen at home.    

Apart from poor quality, a worried parent Shabeeh from New Delhi, who isn’t sending her children to school once it reopens on November 15, says, “My concern is that we do not know much about post-COVID complications in kids. Studies show that kids are the least affected, but I am afraid if any complication arises, and lasts long, it would be difficult to manage.”

For a few others, the hybrid model suits them best. During the lockdown, Hyderabad resident Nimesh Priyadarshi shifted base to Bhubaneshwar but didn’t want to change his daughter Navya’s school in mid-session. “She is still in the same school as she was in Hyderabad, and the online classes have made it possible to attend school from anywhere. We prefer the hybrid model for her, though the school has resumed offline classes for others as well,” he says.   

Before opening their doors and resuming teaching within the four walls of the learning space, the schools had taken ample precautions, including seeking parents’ consent. To assuage the concerns of the parents and children, the schools had ensured complete vaccination of the school staff, with regular sanitization of the entire premises, while maintaining social distancing in the classroom, encouraging hygiene among students, etc. A quick roundup of those sending their children to school versus those who don’t want to, and why.  

Online classes meant zilch learning 

Noida based Amitesh, and Priyamvada Srivastava had sent their children Aadyant and Aarya to attend classes in the physical space when the school had reopened briefly in November last year. “We had no apprehensions this time around. No doubt, online learning was convenient. Kids could attend classes while being stationed here in Noida or Patna or Kolkata, and they did. But when it came to learning, there were no takeaways for children. My son told us that offline is real learning after returning home on the first day, November 8. We were relieved to see this return to normalcy,” he says. There were three children in Aadyant’s class 7 and four in Aarya class 5 on Day 1, but slowly the strength is increasing. Online and offline classes follow different timetables and timings, and there are different teachers assigned for each. “Children are responsible and particular about COVID protocols because any miss could have severe consequences,” she adds.  

Good to see children reclaiming their space 

Patna residents Divesh and Deepa Sehara have been sending their son Milind Dev (Class 8) to school on alternate days from September 6, and every day after Dussehra break. Deepa says, “I was happy about school reopening. Children had forgotten about what life was all about before the pandemic. Their world shrank to a mere phone or a laptop. School is not just about studying; it is also about overall mental and physical growth. So it was a relief to see him back to where he rightfully belongs, the school.” Sehara duo has faith in the precaution being taken by the school, giving them peace that second home is as safe as their child’s first. 

Let children return to their school routine

Dr Nisheeth Kumar, who has been working from home since the lockdown started in March 2020, was pleased with the move to reopen schools. His twin sons, Aditya and Arnav, 7, are in Class 2. They have been going to school for about a month in Patna. “Children have been exposed to testing times for a long duration, and with the situation showing improvement, I think it made sense to let kids resume schools and attend classes in the offline mode. Overexposure to screens has taken a visible toll on children. I am glad schools have reopened, and kids are back to where they belong. My children seemed quite eager to be back to school, and my wife, Rashmi and I heartily welcomed this move,” Dr Kumar states. 

If children can go everywhere else, then why not school?

Priya and Rahul Singh from Bhopal had one nagging issue with the reopening of schools. “The only constraint for us was that children are not vaccinated yet. At the same time, we know that children have strong immunity to recover against infection compared to adults. When parents take their children to malls, markets, and other public places, why not to school?” Rahul asks. Duo’s daughter Rupal is in Class 8, and her school is running and about for all classes, from 1-12, both in online and offline modes. “People in public places can be careless with COVID norms, but not in school. Everyone has to follow them. I feel that little ones in Classes 1-5 are too young to follow norms, so the school should consider excusing them from the offline mode in this session,” Priya adds.

Caught between the devil and deep sea 

As a healthcare worker, Dr Shabana Mehnaaz in Ranchi has had close encounters with COVID in the last 20 months. “I have been extra careful all this while. Corona is not gone yet, and we can’t let our guards down. If I send my eight grader son Tipu Sultan to school, I will worry about his safety because he refuses to wear a mask, and if I choose to let him stay alone at home, I will be worried about his overexposure to screen and mindless Net surfing. Both situations are worrying as a mother,” she says. A surge of cases in Europe and elsewhere has made her jittery about sending Tipu to school, but eventually, that seems the best possible recourse to take, she feels.

The worst is over, but COVID is not gone yet

Ritesh and Aparajita Chandra from Mumbai have similar concerns for Ishi (Class 8) and Aditri (Class 1). “Reopening schools at this stage is a very debatable issue. The first thing to consider is whether health is a priority at this stage. We are still not sure whether there is any third wave coming or not. What if the children are caught in the worst phase yet to be seen of the pandemic. I have not opted for physical school for my eighth grader as I do not want to risk her health and life,” says Aparajita. The flip side, she agrees, is that the children are deprived of regular school life. Two golden years of school life got lost in this conundrum. The couple’s younger one has suffered a lot regarding the initial development of reading and writing skills. “The interaction through peers at this age is vital. Also, managing work from home and attending school duties for children is tough,” Ritesh adds.

Both propositions have pros and cons

Bhubaneshwar based Namrita and Jaspinder Chahal have two children – Mehr in Class 7 and Zaara in Class 4 – and their reasons to let them attend online classes outweigh those for attending school in physical space. “I am wary of letting them attend school. It is safe but can be risky in no time. I can’t compromise on their health. I agree that online classes aren’t as good as offline classes, but until vaccines come and are available to all children, schools reopening might be a dangerous idea,” Namrita says. Their elder daughter has classes for two hours a day, while the younger one has four to five hours a day, which proves to be harmful to her eyesight. “Schools should keep the hybrid learning mode on for those who choose to stay away from offline class,” Jaspinder adds.

The decision to return to school is tough 

Aman and Vandana Ritolia from Bengaluru have been in touch with his son Shrey’s school since it reopened for Classes 5 and above earlier this year and are looking forward to sending him to school once it resumes class in offline mode for junior school in January 2022. “We are in a fix. On the one hand, we are apprehensive because kids are not yet vaccinated. How will they transition mentally after nearly two years of “home” based learning? The other side of the argument is that online education has been more destructive to kids development – emotionally, socially, physically and mentally. I hope that the schools can compensate for the lost time. Kids are resilient, and the long period of being absent from school does not leave any long-lasting impact on the kids,” Aman says, adding how long home quarantine for a single kid family affected his child. “A confident public speaker has become shy and introverted. Working on a computer has led to a severe loss of writing skills, and there’s no outdoor physical activity. All of it is bad,” adds Vandana about her son who is a Class 3 student at a private school in Bengaluru.

Kids are responsible and will stick to norms 

Durgapur based Rajiv and Indu Dalmia have two kids — Viha in Class 9 and Vedant in Class 3, while one goes to school, the other is attending online school still. “It has been over 500 days since the schools shut due to the pandemic. Having lost a year and a half of learning with adverse effects on kids physical and mental well-being, the benefits of opening schools with precautions far outweigh the risks,” says Indu. With everything else being open — theatres, malls, restaurants, airports, etc., the huge gatherings during festivals, it is high time to consider reopening schools for lower classes too with necessary precautions and restrictions, she argues. “Children are losing touch with the basic foundation of their lives, and that’s a huge cost to pay in the long term,” says Rajiv.

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