Re-opening of Schools-Learnings from the world

It is remarkable how the schools in India, K-12 educators and administrators have switched to remote learning practices amid Covid-19 induced lockdown. As the time goes by, the educators and administrators are redirecting their attention from providing high-quality online education to reopening the campuses. The boards of education and the states have not yet given clear guidelines or deadlines with respect to the opening of schools but it is not hard to fathom that the closure of schools cannot and will not go on indefinitely. The schools will open and they have to be opened responsibly. 

Several states have seen pending exams being conducted and if the guidelines for the conduct of the exams are anything to go by, we can guess what the directions for the reopening of schools would look like. There is no denying that things will not go back to normal instantly and the schools will see a gradual and phased reopening. It is also likely that daily operations will see marked changes to discourage recurrence of diseases and outbreaks. 

It is helpful to look at the trends that are seen in other countries with respect to the reopening of schools while the virus is only partially under control. 

In the US, the worst affected among the countries, a tiered approach for reopening of the schools is being deliberated upon. It is of course incumbent upon the severity of the pandemic in the particular region. The state or the region that have registered a downward trend in the cases for 14 consecutive days and the hospitals have a robust testing mechanism in place would qualify for phase 1. If the virus has not shown reemergence in these regions in several weeks, then they will qualify for the phase 2 and the schools there could reopen provided of course that the social distancing measures are followed wherever possible. Gathering and assemblies will not take place in the schools under any circumstance and the classroom furniture will be configured so as to maintain distance between pupils.  

It is mandatory for all to wear masks and use sanitizers. If anyone exhibits signs of being unwell, he or she will be required to report immediately and stay home.  

It is also advised that the school premises be frequently sanitized and recesses etc. be managed to avoid gathering of children. The schools may also see a staggered attendance with some students attending schools at different times than the others. 

That is how the US is planning to reopen its schools. Now, let us look at some other countries that have already reopened their schools. Certain countries in East and South East Asia and Europe have reopened their schools. The experiences of these nations can be of use to us. 

In the case of Taiwan, there were some marked changes in the daily functioning of the schools when they reopened. To begin with, upon arriving the students were checked for temperature and if deviated from the normal range the child was sent back. The students’ apparels including the soles of their shoes were sanitized before they entered the building. 

All the children had face masks on. In case of Taiwan the masks were government issued. In addition to that, there were regular breaks for washing hands and a monitor was appointed to ensure that sanitization of hands happen at regular intervals. There were disinfectant spray bottles for the surfaces too. In the lunch break, the students were separated with the use of folding dividers. 

In other south east Asian countries as well as in Europe the practice of handling students’ waste were carefully designed and teachers were instructed to oversee the handling of the waste after class. The teachers were trained to pre-diagnose any signs including lethargy, loss of appetite etc. and separate the any student with such symptoms for further testing. 

There is no denying that the reopening of schools will not be as easy as flipping of a switch. The situation will have to be kept into consideration before the campuses resume. However, we have the precedents of certain exams happening relatively uneventfully and we may get back on track if the guidelines are strictly followed and children are monitored closely. 

Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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