Ever Since Covid-19 affected humankind, need for social distancing closed down schools and colleges. Classrooms were shuttered .Instead, online education became the new norm. It has been so ever since, with the virus still holding students to ransom, and keeping them indoors. Students used to blackboards, textbooks and notebooks have been forced to take to various gadgets as part of online education.
Long-term use of these gadgets has taken its toll on the health of students. Visual disturbances, chronic headaches, and joint pains are being increasingly reported among students dependent on mobile phones, tablets and laptops to attend classes. These ill-effects on students have drawn the attention of state and central governments, who are examining feasibility of reopening educational institutions. SOPs are being drawn up to ensure safe ‘trudge back to the classrooms’.
That this had to be considered when the deadly second wave of the pandemic is only abating in India, and when a third one is expected anytime has made it an exercise fraught with inherent risks and uncertainty. This gargantuan task has placed huge responsibility on the governments’ shoulders. The whole exercise of resuming classroom education is verily a tight-rope-walk under the circumstances. The onus is on the government to ensure safety of students, teachers and support staff from the viral ravage when they all congregate within four walls of schools and colleges.
Though governments bank on mega-vaccination drive among teachers and allied staff of educational institutions, it remains to be seen how effective vaccines are in preventing infections. This skepticism has come about because of significant breakthrough infections that are being reported among the vaccinated. Moreover, students could transmit infection from their homes to educational institutions and vice versa.
- This reemphasizes religious adherence to Covid-appropriate behavior viz; proper use of masks, social distancing, hand and face hygiene. These measures must be observed without compromise by students, teachers and other staff.
- Standalone foot-operated Hand sanitizers and washing facilities provided with paper napkins and trash bins must be provided liberally within campuses.
- If space permits, classes are better conducted in the open under shamianas that protect students and teachers from the elements.
- Air-conditioned spaces must be avoided at all costs.
- Having food together in crowded classrooms and staff rooms must be discouraged.
- Mass conveyance in school and college transport facilities must be resumed only after ascertaining its safety. It is better that students commute to educational institutions in their own means of conveyance, as far as possible. Educational institutions must anticipate and prevent traffic jams in front of them as the result.
- Contact sports must not be encouraged.
- Picnics and study tours too must not be undertaken till the situation improves within the community.
- It must be made compulsory for Students, teachers and staff who develop signs and symptoms of Covid-19 to test for the disease. They must be permitted into the premises only on production of negative results. Clinics within campuses must ideally be facilitated with testing kits.
- Security staff must limit strangers from entering the premises. Parents and those involved in transporting students must be allowed into the premises only on production of Covid-negative test results.
- An effective means of landline communication between parents and students must be put in place. This is an exercise which is almost impossible in most educational institutions. This is particularly relevant as mobile phones are generally banned inside campuses.
- Residency facilities like hostels can wait for the time being.
- Stringent Covid-appropriate protocol must be enforced in Libraries, laboratories and computer rooms.
- Use of toilets must be on one-at-a-time basis as far as possible.
- Functioning of school mess and canteens must only be permitted later once the situation improves.
- Activities in common areas like auditoria and movie halls must be limited.
- If infections surge within the community once classroom education resumes, a combination of online education and classroom education can be tried appropriately.
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