Is India ready to reopen schools and Colleges during COVID?

COVID or Corona Virus Disease, or COVID-19 where 19 is the year in which the virus outbreak took place, i.e. 2019. It is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered virus; this virus is believed to be originated from a bat in Wuhan, China, but many theories are contradicting this, so we are not sure yet.

Looking at the symptoms, this does not seem so horrible. The fatality or the death rate of COVID-19 is somewhere between 1-5% across the world, varying in different countries and areas; this means out of every 100 reported cases of COVID-19 about 1-5 people die, and the rest can be treated. Again this doesn’t sound horrible at all.

Preventive measures one can take are washing your hands with sanitizers and later with soap, not stepping outside your home, wearing a mask if one has to step out of home, practice social distancing, etc.

If we try to follow these preventive measures strictly, one has to maintain at least a distance of 1 meter must be maintained (though some research papers suggest as the virus has mutated and now can spread through the air too, one must at least maintain 5 meters of distance). One must have to wear a mask all the time and many more.

The first case of COVID-19 in India was reported on 30th January 2020. On 24th March 2020, the government of India under the guidance of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown of about 21 days. A week before, Colleges and Schools were closed. Students were in a shock, but we’re excited to enjoy the holidays and were expecting a return by the end of March or probably in early April. Students from different parts of the world packed some clothes and essentials and left for their hometowns, leaving their luggage back at their rooms, hostels, PGs (Paying guests), or wherever they lived. On the 24th on the official announcement of the nationwide lockdown, people became serious about the COVID situation in India. As soon as the extension of the lockdown was announced, i.e. on 14th May personally by PM Narendra Modi, people actually started fearing. Everybody was frustrated as they were not allowed to leave their homes. Some students were still in their hostels and not in their homes, now since no public bus service or rail services were functional, neither was it safe to travel in them students feared a lot. Somehow, most of their parents managed to bring them back to their hometowns, and the rest were made comfortable wherever they were living. People stayed at home for a very long time. Finally, the day arrived at unlocking 1 that was 1st June. On this day, India was the 7th most-affected nation due to COVID-19 globally, with over 1.9 lakh cases and 5,400 deaths. This figure was very horrifying. This made everyone to voluntarily stay at home due to fear of getting caught up by COVID-19.

April to June are the months for all the major exams in India including JEE MAINS, JEE Advanced, NEET, School/College exams, and many more. None of them went perfectly according to the plan. The exams had to be shifted. Students and the authorities had to suffer. Most schools and colleges had to pass students based on their previous year grades or with assignments etc. After all of this, today, the problem we all are facing is whether to reopen schools and colleges or not.

Why is it important to reopen schools and colleges during COVID-19? As for now, we are using online learning as an alternative to offline classes, but it really has a lot of problems.

  • We do not know when this will end: There doesn’t seem any end to COVID in the near future. The cases are continuously increasing at present, and even if we believe they start decreasing still, it will take another whole year to stop completely, which is a must to stop the spread. It is also believed that whenever this ends, sometime later we will have the 2nd wave of COVID which will be much more devastating than this one.
  • Practical learning is not possible on zoom, Google meet, or other apps: This one is specifically those in the science stream, which basically includes the medical students, those who have to work in labs, those who are doing researches, or PhDs. None of it is possible to work from home. They have to work in their respective places. Apart from the Science stream, those who are taking training for different courses or purposes have to go there and work.
  • Theoretical Online learning even on the best apps like Google meet, and zoom is not really effective: Most of the students do not really learn from these as effectively as they used to do in their regular offline classes. Teachers have a hard time learning to work on new technologies (sometimes students too). Many students are not taking teachers and online lectures seriously, and this goes both ways.
  • Unavailability of internet/network connections: Many villages and small towns still do not have internet/network connections in their area. Students living in those areas are not able to attend the classes. Apart from this, not all parents are able to afford smartphones and internet charges for their children. This too is a huge problem.
  • Conduction of exams is not possible in a fair manner: The students mustn’t cheat on their exams. Avoiding cheating in exams cannot be avoided in online exams. One has to be present there. The alternative being used here is assignments, but what about students who don’t have internet connections. Apart from this, the exams need to be conducted fairly as no company wants an employee who has passed without exams. Also, there are certain posts like doctors, engineers, and many more where one cannot afford passing a student without exams or the circumstances can be catastrophic.
  • Other problems which one will see in the long run: About 6.8 crore children in India were provided with mid-day meals in government schools, all of them are now either starving or labouring or earning money in tough circumstances and not getting an education at all. Apart from this, the Anganwadis provided about 6.4 crore children nutritious food, vaccines, etc., now it’s all gone. Child abuse, child labour, child trafficking, etc. is increasing rapidly. It is estimated that over 2 lakh children have missed their BCG and pentavalent vaccines this year. Many more surveys suggest many more shocking things, and there are still many about which we do not know anything at all at present. Some doctors/scientist in India suggests that in India herd immunity can only be achieved if the colleges and schools are to be re-opened. New admissions are a big problem for many colleges.

Why is it important not to reopen schools and colleges during COVID:

  • Many students will catch the virus: Does not matter how much precaution one takes, out of such a huge population, in such a high population density, at present if the colleges and schools are reopened, it is not really possible to prevent Coronavirus to enter into your body. Many will catch the virus and will eventually have to be treated in hospitals and then further had to remain in quarantine for another 14 days. It is a very long time.
  • The number of cases of Corona Virus in the whole country will suddenly increase: A very huge population of India is young, and many of them go to schools and colleges. These students will catch the virus from schools and colleges and spread it to the elders at their homes (parents and grandparents, who are at high risk of dying from the virus). Eventually, these people will go to their offices and workplaces and spread the virus.
  • Medical facilities of India are not up to the mark: India does have great medical facilities, but that does not mean they can treat a quarter of the population at the same time. There, not many beds/resources/doctors in India which can even imagine treating say 1% of the population at the same time. With schools and colleges opening up, cases will increase and a time will come where the doctors had to work according to a priority list where the youngsters will come first and the old aged people later. This is horrifying.
  • Students may die too: COVID may be more serious for old or middle-aged people, but it is not completely easy for every student to fight against COVID and survive. No parents would want their children to die. There are many families in India totally dependent on their children for their own survival. Apart from this, many families in India have totally spent all their earnings on their children and their education. If something happens to them, everything goes in vail, and the families will starve. There may be certain strains of COVID that are not too harmful at present, but they may develop any time. Can Indian parents, students, and the government ready to take this risk?
  • Adverse effects of wearing masks all the time and sanitizers: Wearing masks and sanitizers are the preventive measures one must take in order to avoid catching the virus. What one needs to understand is these too have their own side effects, and if colleges and schools are to be reopened, students will have to use these preventive measures all the time, and it may affect them adversely. Sanitizers can call up skin disorders, can affect body development; some can even cause infertility or alcohol poisoning too. Wearing masks all the time can mess with your sight, can be uncomfortable, can create security issues, can restrict your airflow, and many more.

What can be done?

  • Continuing online education: Attending online classes is the only sensible option here which is accepted by most of the other countries. Serious students and teachers will eventually find their way to learn and teach respectively. The government must work on the connectivity of the internet/network in small villages and towns or arrange somewhere to live for students in cities or areas with internet connectivity and buy the resources to the poor.
  • Conducting planned exams: Exams must be in a planned manner. The best way is to give assignments to students and asking questions to them on video calls as viva voice. This method is implemented by many. Different subjects may require different patterns, but the basic idea can remain the same. Practical exams will have to be conducted theoretically on viva voice too by the student giving step by step instructions to the teacher or by actually calling students in small groups to the college. Some medical colleges have implemented this idea and have conducted exams. Some have called a small group or a particular batch of students and asked them to stay under quarantine in separate rooms each in the college hostel/facility itself. Later their exams are conducted and sent home safely. This pattern may not be possible to be followed by all the colleges or schools, but still, it is an option.

Neither the Supreme Court of India nor the Government of India has said anything clearly about the reopening of schools and colleges yet. Still, there are chances that the government may have to take this bold decision, or it will create terrible circumstances in the long run. YouTube is a great platform where one can study online if you cant study from your college/school teachers. You can ask for online tutoring/tuition classes on websites or personally. One can always take help from google.