- In India, schools were closed in March 2020 after declaration of a pandemic
- Impact on children's mental, physical, cognitive health will last long: WHO
- Experts recommend phased reopening of schools in India
New Delhi: Schools for more than 168 million children globally have been completely closed for almost an entire year due to COVID-19 lockdowns, according to data released in March by UNICEF. Furthermore, around 214 million children globally or 1 in 7 have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a closure of schools across the world. In India, various states like Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Delhi and Karnataka are planning to reopen schools and resume offline classes partially.
The Need To Reopen Schools
In a conversation with NDTV, Dr Harish Shetty, Child Psychiatrist said, an individual’s development, interaction, movement, and learning happens through schools. Explaining how the role of a school is not only to teach what’s written in textbooks, Dr Shetty said,
School teaches you skills of life, socialising skill and some amount of learning is a part of it. All of this can never happen on zoom or any other online medium as energy is not felt. No matter what attempts you make, you can never get those vibes through an online meeting.
Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS also feels that offline classes should begin in a graded manner as ‘schools are much more than just online learning’. In an interview with NDTV recently, Dr Guleria said,
There is a lot of other interaction which children need to have with their peers and teachers. It’s an issue of social interaction and character building and all of that is very important as far as children are concerned. And there are many children in primary classes who have never even gone to school and therefore, a lot of education is suffering especially for the marginalised who don’t have access to internet or computer. They are really suffering and probably have dropped out of school. We really need to start physical classes in a graded manner, develop strategies and hopefully by October-November or the end of the year, when children start getting vaccinated, we should be in a position to have schools opened totally in a physical manner as we were doing in the past.
Sharing similar views, Dr Badshah Khan, Consultant Pediatrician, Wockhardt Hospital, Mira Road called online schooling ‘a growing matter of concern’ for the school staff as well as parents. He said,
E-learning involves a lot of problems like network issues, there is a communication gap, children fail to pay attention and are unable to focus on their studies, they tend to skip online classes, and also are encountering back, neck, and eye problems. Resuming school safely as soon as possible is the need of the hour. It can help children develop physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially.
How Should Schools Be Reopened Amid COVID-19
Highlighting the impact of closure of schools on children, WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan also called for reopening of schools and wrote on social media, “The impact on children’s mental, physical and cognitive well-being will last a long time. School openings must be prioritised with distancing, masking, avoiding indoor singing and gatherings, hand hygiene and vaccination of all adults.”
The impact on children's mental, physical and cognitive wellbeing will last a long time. School openings must be prioritized with distancing, masking, avoiding indoor singing and gatherings, hand hygiene & vaccination of all adults @mhrdschools @DrYasminAHaque @NITIAayog @UNICEF https://t.co/vgWcTZ6Nnk
— Soumya Swaminathan (@doctorsoumya) August 10, 2021
WHO’s Chief Scientist had talked about reopening of schools earlier in June as well in a special ‘Science in 5’ series by WHO where she emphasised on vaccination and said,
We have to remember the fact that it’s not necessary that children must get the vaccine before they can go back to school. We’ve seen in many countries that schools have been kept open very successfully. As long as the adults who are working in the school environment are vaccinated and adults in the community are getting the vaccine so that infection rates start dropping, then by following the other public health measures that have been advised for school safety, schools should be able to reopen safely.
Sharing his thoughts on how schools can be reopened while keeping the risk of COVID-19 infection at bay, Dr Shetty said,
Open school twice a week, two hours for every standard. You can call three classes a day at a gap of one hour and use separate classrooms for different batches. Divide those two hours as one hour of curriculum and one hour of fun. Now, if you will ask what about the syllabus? Reduce it and it should be enforced strictly by the top level. Children will be able to learn only when they are in a good mental state. I have children coming to me, complaining of depression because of online classes and being under the radar all the time.
Children are often touted as super-spreaders because they don’t exhibit the symptoms of an infection but they can easily transmit to others. This is one of the reasons, it’s not considered safe to open schools. Replying to this, Dr Shetty said,
Aren’t children going out with their parents on a trip or dinner? There is something called ‘citizenship responsibility’; it is not the responsibility of only government or NGOs to contain the pandemic. A risk-benefit analysis is required before reopening schools and a conversation between parents, schools, and governments is essential.”
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.