Parliamentary panel on education suggests reopening of schools; highlights concerns
A parliamentary panel has suggested reopening of schools, saying implications of a prolonged closure of schools due to COVID-19 are "too serious to be ignored." The report prepared by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth, and Sports, was tabled in the Parliament on Friday. In order to reopen schools, it called for an "accentuated" vaccination program for all students and teachers.
The panel, in its report, asserted the closure of schools is impacting the social fabric of the country negatively. It also noted marginal and vulnerable students are most adversely affected as the closure of schools leads to "early/child marriage and increased involvement of children in household chores." "Keeping this situation in mind, it becomes all the more imperative to open schools," said the panel.
The panel also expressed concern over the mental health of students who haven't been able to attend school for over a year. "The confinement of young children within the four walls of the house, being unable to attend school, has altered the relationship between the parent and the children adversely," it said. It added "learning loss" is likely to "impair" their cognitive capabilities.
On the impact on students' cognitive capabilities, the panel cited a study conducted by the Azim Premji University in 44 districts across five states in January. The report, which covered 16,067 children in Classes 2 to 6, found 92% of children lost at least one specific language ability, while 82% lost at least one specific mathematical ability from the previous year across all classes.
The panel advised that "classes may be held on alternate days or in two shifts to thin out students." It also said the practice of social distancing and wearing masks need to be made compulsory in schools. It further recommended regular thermal screening at the time of attendance and random RT-PCR tests to identify and isolate the sick students, teachers, and staff immediately.
The panel suggested the Department of School Education and Literacy set up a hybrid model school comprising in-person as well as online classes in every district and tehsil of the country. It also said that these schools should become operational by October.
In June, the government had informed the parliamentary panel on education that nearly two crore children in India are without access to digital learning. However, the government still has no data on the kind of learning gap school closure has created among school children. Thus, the government has decided to conduct the National Assessment Survey to determine the learning gap in November.
Schools have been shuttered across India since March last year due to COVID-19. Though some states reopened schools in October, they had to close again due to the second wave. Now, at least 10 states have either reopened the schools or are mulling to reopen in the coming days. These include Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, and Punjab.