Optional attendance, staggered shifts new normal for schools amid Covid-19 pand...

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Waiving off mandatory attendance for students, holding staggered classes, and providing breaks to different classes at different time were among the suggestions that officials of the human resource development ministry and state education departments mulled as they discussed the reopening of schools against the backdrop of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Senior officials of the ministry maintained that no date has or month has been decided for the opening of schools . To be sure, many have warned against the opening of schools; countries that have done so have waited till the infections started declining; in India, the number of daily new cases, and daily deaths continues to rise.

Hundreds of schools across the country including nearly 200 Kendriya Vidyalayas and Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas and those run by state governments are functioning as quarantine centres, including for migrants.

“There are many aspects and the HRD ministry is working on protocols keeping all these factors in mind,” said one of the officials cited above, asking not to be identified.

The HRD ministry is preparing standard protocols on safety, social distancing and hygiene on school campuses as well as for online education. In the meeting chaired by School Education Secretary Anita Karwal the contours of these were shared with states and their responses sought within a week.

Among the measures that the HRD ministry has considered are: holding classes in different shifts, removing attendance requirements, encouraging students who can log in to classes online to stay at home, doing away with morning assemblies, ensuring the transport facilities follow social distancing norms,opening for only only senior classes not having lunch break for all classes at the same time, usage of masks and sanitisers and avoiding sports or cultural activities .

The ministry will also come up with detailed norms for residential schools as well as for online education. To be sure, education is on the concurrent list which mans both the Centre and the states can pass legislations on it.

“There are so many aspects and all need to be looked into. What should be the response if a student or teacher reports unwell. These are real life concerns and the ministry has to factor in a range of possibilities. However, the ministry will bring the norms only after consultation with states. These norms will be of advisory nature and states will be allowed to come up with their own plans,” said a second official who asked not to be named.

Asked about reports on a final date on opening of schools, ministry officials emphasized that a final decision can only be taken after consultation with the Union Home and Health ministries as well as state and union territories.

Officials said that the ministry is aware that online education can’t be a substitute to the conventional mode of teaching with many students not having personal devices or network connectivity. However, a road-map is being prepared to address this issue, they added.

“Overall, there is a view that daily online classes should not go beyond a couple of hours. The ministry has asked NCERT and CBSE to look into various areas. The SOPs when they come out are likely to reflect these issues,” said the second official.

Following the meeting, HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank tweeted that valuable suggestions were received and will be shared with the Health ministry and the Home Affairs ministry. Our priority has always been the safety and security of students, he said.

In its guidelines, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that the decision on opening of education institutions would be taken in July after consultation with teachers and parents.

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