Updated on: Tuesday, January 11, 2022, 10:34 AM IST

FPJ-Ed: Amid surging COVID-19 cases, can operating at 50 percent capacity be a viable alternative for schools, colleges?

Representative Image
 | Unsplash

Representative Image | Unsplash


Due to an increase in the number of COVID cases in the state, Maharashtra has already set restrictions on schools and colleges and ordered them to remain shut till February 15.

Even though pandemic numbers are on the rise, hotels, spas, gyms, and saloons are permitted to operate at half capacity. Schools, colleges, and students have been particularly hard hit during the previous two years. Students from a pre-primary section to a college are reintroduced to online learning.

Parents are concerned about their child's educational progress. They only want to convey that education is more essential than everything else. Schools should be the first to open and the last to close.

They are surprised as to why schools are the only ones that are entirely closed. Sumreni Lala, a parent from Mumbai said, "World over schools have been the first to open and the last to close, here, however, everything is open but schools, for 2 years are shut. Why aren’t parents given the choice - for those who are worried, let them opt for the online option, for those who are not - allow us to send our children to school. Knee-jerk, unlimited closures just have to stop."

Parents believe that online mode should not be the sole choice and that other methods should be used to overcome the dilemma. Khushboo Shah, a parent from Mumbai said, "It's time we evolve our schools with the need of the hour. Instead of keeping schools shut indefinitely, we must find ways to keep them open. Like readjusting the student-teacher ratio or reworking the school's hours or changing our vacation dates. COVID is here to stay but we must give priority to education and find ways to keep our schools on, as our children need that essentially."

Principals, on the other hand, agreed with the government's decision but wanted the schools to open as soon as possible. Children's safety should be emphasised, and 50 percent capacity can function when cases are dropping.

Ms. Prachi Ranadive, Principal of Shishuvan International School, Matunga said, "Frankly I had this opinion by December end, but since the beginning of January cases are rising, and due to winter onset many children and adults are having cold, cough and fever. Distinguishing regular illness and COVID would have become difficult. In the best interest of all the deferred reopening in 2022 has helped. A sense of safety is there."

Paediatricians are waiting for the surge to decrease and everything to restore to normalcy; only then will it be feasible to resume schools at half capacity. Mr. Bakul Parekh, a senior pediatric consultant in Mumbai said, "If we try to open schools many of the parents won't allow it, as the cases are increasing everyday. Let us wait for this wave to tie down, once it is done, a capacity of 50 percent in schools and colleges will naturally be an option."

Many parents have been asking whether 50 percent capacity in the schools is a possibility; they were hoping for satisfactory responses from the schools. Ms. Pooja Anjanikar, Principal of Orchids - The International School, Vashi, Mumbai stated, " We understand that our students are going through a tough phase due to this uncertainty of school reopening. Needless to say, they were eagerly waiting to meet their friends and favourite teachers, sit in the classroom, and were craving for normalcy.

But we also have to keep in mind that making the children realise the severity of this fatal disease is much tougher than the grown-ups. Given the current situation where the virus has elevated spreadability than the previous variants, the risk of contracting it is much higher.

Though I am sure that schools are capable of taking care of their students and can be operated in 50% capacity if permitted by the authorities, it is wiser not to open schools at the moment and continue online classes till we get a grip on the situation. This will give our students an extra layer of protection to lower the chances of them getting affected by the virus and help us avoid any untoward incidents."

Colleges already had fewer students attending, but those eager to go for a few practical subjects that are critical can be permitted at 50% occupancy. Anita Kanwar, Principal of Swami Vivekanand College, Mumbai said, "The government's action to break the chain of new cases is a positive one, but the online system itself is a major loss for the education system. A 50 percent allowance is unquestionably a solid alternative, at least for those who need practical experience."

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Published on: Tuesday, January 11, 2022, 10:24 AM IST