Despite the new COVID-19 variant 'Omicron' striking terror across the globe, the Maharashtra government has decided to go ahead with its decision to reopen schools for Classes 1 to 4 in rural areas and Classes 1 to 7 in urban areas from Wednesday, December 1.
Schools have been asked to strictly follow the COVID-19 guidelines -- proper sanitisation of classrooms, wearing masks, and mandatory thermal screening. According to the notification issued by the school education department, there should be a maximum of 15-20 students in a class, and the schools have been directed to call the students in a staggered manner. The notification said the schools must prioritise core subjects of study. In case of students exhibiting symptoms, schools must refer them to a medical officer or the nearest health centre, it added.
Meanwhile, ahead of the reopening of schools, the Free Press Journal spoke to a few school authorities in Pune and Mumbai regarding their preparedness.
Harshad Tathed, Principal of Priyadarshani High School in Pimpri Chinchwad's Bhosari, said they made different batches of three hours each as the school has around 1,550 children in Classes 1 to 7. He said they will make sure that children have less movement on the campus. They have also made visual charts and banners to help children understand the gravity of the situation better, he said.
When asked about the emotional management and rehabilitation of children, Tathed said they have started a counselling cell through which they are working on the elimination of fear in children and parents. Given that the children were at their homes for nearly two years and might not have focussed on studies, the school has categorised them as per their learning levels and will be making efforts in revising the syllabus on an individual level, he said.
Anagha Prabhu, Principal of Orchids - The International School in Mumbai's Borivali, said they have appointed a full-time nurse who will be recording the temperature of students and staff twice a day. When the school reopens, she said the first priority will be the mental well-being of the students. "Fear of socialising needs to be eliminated and for making students keep gadgets aside, efforts need to be made taking parents into confidence," she said.
Prabhu admitted that there were limitations in the online learning mode wherein due to network issues or medical issues in the family, there was regular absenteeism. Hence to bridge the learning gap, she said the school is planning to take up a bridge course to help students. "School PTA members also play important role in understanding the needs of the children and their behaviour at home. Thus, parents and school will work jointly going ahead with positive energy so that the learning space is enjoyable for all," she added.
Prabha Rao, Supervisor at St. Joseph's High School in Mumbai's Wadala, said they have sent an open invitation to all the parents to visit the school to check the measures taken. "Ultimately, sending the kids to school is the parents' decision, we don't want to pressurise them," she added.
Regarding the reduction in the syllabus, Rao said the school shall focus on topics that will help the students in future classes. She further said they have planned fun activities and free expression sessions so that the children, who were confined to their homes for nearly two years, can express themselves.