Educational Crisis

According to a parliamentary standing committee report last year, “around 320 million children in India had not stepped into a classroom for more than a year”.Several states had reopened classrooms for a few months last year, but the Omicron-driven wave of infections led to another interruption. Children in the national capital lost more school-days to pollution. As the third wave peaks in some cities, states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana have announced dates of reopening schools. Since 2020, when schools shut down to contain the imminent first wave of the corona virus, then an unknown and unpredictably dangerous pathogen, we have come a long way. With 75 per cent adults vaccinated,better treatment protocols and a low rate of hospitalization in the current wave, governments cannot afford to keep schools, and the lives of children, in a limbo for much longer. But the decision to reopen must be guided by data and science. It must not be a top down diktat, but involve teachers, district administrations and parents. Two years into the pandemic, all states must have – at the very least – by now, devised an SOP that helps school administrations decide on reopening schools on the basis of the case positivity rate or the number of occupied hospital beds or other criteria devised in agreement with medical experts. Given that, at any moment of time, the burden of disease varies from state to state, district to district, this must be a local decision,taken transparently – and without panic.The case for reopening schools is a strong one but it is not hard to see why state governments continue to exercise caution. Earlier fears that children will be carriers and infect the elderly at home have been assuaged by the high levels of vaccination among the adult population – 75 per cent of the adults have been fully vaccinated. The vaccination of children in the 15-18 age group has started but is showing signs of slowing down. That needs to pick up pace, schools need to be made part of the vaccination process. Surely, the choice is not a simple binary one and there will be risks. But as the third wave wanes, as the adult population moves to total vaccination, state governments must go to work on a reopening plan that ensures safety of children as well as access to learning. So far, the policy debate in the shadow of Covid has been dominated by reviving the economy and ameliorating distress. Similar urgency planning needs to be brought to unlocking classrooms the future is a terrible thing to waste.

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