Schools in a few states are reopening, a major step towards the slow return of normal life for Indian children. Many parents are eager to send their children to school, saying that the child in a classroom learns better and more than the child does sitting in front of the screen at home. Though online learning, parents say, is inferior to the overall mental and physical development of peers in the physical space, many parents still have reservations about sending their children to attend classes.
For instance, Shabeeh from New Delhi has decided against sending her children to school once it reopens on November 15. She says, “My concern is that we do not know much about post-COVID complications in kids. Studies show that kids are the least affected, but I am afraid that if any difficulty lasts long, they have their whole life in front of them, unlike adults.”
Others have practical reasons for choosing the hybrid online-offline model. During the lockdown, Hyderabad resident Nimesh Priyadarshi shifted base to Bhubaneshwar but didn't want to change his daughter Navya’s school in mid-session. “She is still in the same school as she was in Hyderabad, and the online classes have made it possible to attend school from anywhere. We prefer the hybrid model for her,” he says.
Schools are making efforts to ensure children’s safety, including seeking parents’ consent. To assuage the concerns of the parents and children, many schools are ensuring complete vaccination of the school staff, with regular sanitisation of the entire premises, while maintaining social distancing in the classroom, and encouraging hygiene among students. But other parents voice concerns that their young children in Classes 1 to 5 might not want to or be able to follow hygiene norms.
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Two hard choices
As a healthcare worker, Dr Shabana Mehnaaz has had close encounters with COVID in the last 20 months. “I have been extra careful all this while. Corona is not gone yet, and we can’t let our guard down. If I send my eighth-grader son Tipu Sultan to school, I will worry about his safety because he refuses to wear a mask, and if I choose to let him stay alone at home, I will be worried about his overexposure to screen and mindless Net surfing. Both situations are worrying as a mother,” she says. A surge of cases in Europe and elsewhere has made her jittery about sending Tipu to school, but eventually, that seems the best possible recourse to take, she feels.
Covid still around
Ritesh and Aparajita Chandra from Mumbai have similar concerns for Ishi (Class 8) and Aditri (Class 1). “Reopening schools at this stage is a debatable issue. The first thing to consider is whether health is a priority at this stage. We are still not sure whether there is any third wave coming or not. What if the children are caught in the worst phase yet to be seen of the pandemic. I have not opted for physical school for my eighth grader as I do not want to risk her health and life,” says Chandra.
The flip side, she agrees, is that the children are deprived of regular school life. Two golden years of school life got lost in this conundrum. The couple’s younger one has suffered a lot regarding the initial development of reading and writing skills. “The interaction through peers at this age is vital. Also, managing work from home and attending school duties for children is tough,” she adds.
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Both propositions have pros & cons
Bhubaneshwar-based Namrita and Jaspinder Chahal have two children — Mehr in Class 7 and Zaara in Class 4 — and their reasons to let them attend online classes outweigh those for attending school in physical space. “I am wary of letting them attend school. It is safe but can be risky in no time. I can’t compromise on their health. I agree that online classes aren't as good as offline classes, but until vaccines come and are available to all children, schools reopening might be a dangerous idea,” he says. Their elder daughter has classes for two hours a day, while the younger one has four to five hours a day, which proves to be harmful to her eyesight. “Schools should keep the hybrid learning mode on for those who choose to stay away from offline class,” he adds.
A tough decision
Aman and Vandana Ritolia have been in touch with his son Shrey's school since it reopened for Classes 5 and above and are looking forward to sending him to school once it resumes class in offline mode for junior school in January 2022.
“We are in a fix. On the one hand, we are apprehensive because kids are not yet vaccinated. How will they transition mentally after nearly two years of “home” based learning? The other side of the argument is that online education has been more destructive to kids development - emotionally, socially, physically and mentally. I hope that the schools can compensate for the lost time. Kids are resilient, and the long period of being absent from school does not leave any long-lasting impact on the kids,” Ritolia says, adding how long home quarantine for a single kid family affected his child. “A confident public speaker has become shy and introverted. Working on a computer has led to a severe loss of writing skills, and there’s no outdoor physical activity,” he says about his son in Class 3.