People around the world develop a different opinion of the COVID-19 pandemic, which means they face varying challenges, from overwhelmed health care systems to growing economic despair. The pandemic has sparked to think that our current way of life does not work. It has broken our perception of what is normal and deconstructed society as we know it. As the days pass by with no immediate solution to halt the outbreak of COVID-19. Where the need for change has become clear, is education. The effects of the pandemic and thereby its preventive measures, has upended the life of a student, teachers, and parents. But now the important question of reopening schools is front of mind for many. what could be the current effects of COVID-19 pandemic mean for the future of education?
Given the period we have spent in lockdown and the observation of our abrupt transition to online learning, we have found that time to think and the direction in which we must apply our efforts. Parents and teachers are understandably wary. How can school systems respond?
For schools, the first frantic rush of transitioning from in-person to remote learning is behind, not that the process is complete. Most teachers or faculty members are still working to create new routines. Others are still working out how to teach a course designed for a physical classroom through online platforms that they may still be learning to master. This has not only given a chance to rethink the education sector, but also the opportunity to visualise how it can evolve in tandem with our changing world. Students are also having to adjust, expected to learn as much without the ready social connection and energy of a residential and in-person learning environment. Until the COVID-19 crisis, online learning made up almost no share of education in school. Moving from in-campus to remote learning raises issues related to access and equity. There are immediate logistical challenges of ensuring students have the basic technology they need to learn remotely.
Only a handful of private schools could adopt online teaching methods. The low-income private and government school counterparts have no access to e-learning solutions. The rushed efforts to move to remote learning will increase the risks of cyberattacks and cyberbullying and in which unwelcome users can disrupt classes. Unfortunately, the present situation does not favour remote learning in our society, as many low-income students do not have reliable internet service and devices equipped to support remote learning.
Experts around the world are grappling with two important questions related to getting students safely back into the classroom. When should school reopen? What health and safety measures should schools adopt? There are no right answers to these questions.
Leaders and educationists will be making decisions based on limited and rapidly changing epidemiological evidence and will, therefore, be forced to make difficult trade-offs to reopen schools. Governments, leaders, and experts muse possible timelines, they can consider four interlocking components of reopening; risks to public health, economic activity, impacts on students’ learning, and safeguarding readiness. The most critical question is whether reopening schools will lead to a resurgence of infection among students, teachers, staff, and the larger community. The evidence is still nascent. Children’s risk of contracting COVID-19 appears to be lower than that of an adult. Emerging evidence also suggests that children are more likely to be asymptomatic, less likely to be hospitalised, and much less likely to die if they do develop COVID-19.
Although the risk to students themselves appears relatively low, reopening schools can expose to risk and might contribute to a higher risk for the larger community. Children’s role in transmitting the disease is still unclear, making it difficult to estimate the extent to which reopening schools might contribute to resurgence. Decision-makers will, therefore, need to determine when to reopen schools in the context of reopening society at large.
The final consideration to weigh is school systems’ ability to create and consistently follow effective health and safety measures to mitigate the risk of infection. Schools will need to adopt and enforce heightened health and sanitation protocols. However, schools will confront trade-offs between effectiveness and feasibility in implementing such measures.
Alternating school days for different groups of students may facilitate physical distancing but may not fully meet students’ needs and may create an inconsistent learning environment. Limited budgets, infrastructure, and supplies of critical health and safety equipment may further complicate these challenges, as many governments and private run schools may unlikely to cops with. Some measures that are appropriate for adults will be difficult if not impossible to enforce in a school setting, especially for younger students. Equipping or retrofitting schools for best hygiene and sanitation will not be effective if student behaviour cannot or does not adhere to health and safety protocols.
We need to evaluate each school’s health and safety measures to fit its resources and capabilities across major categories; infrastructure, scheduling and staffing, transportation, health, and behavioural policies. Temperature checks for anyone entering a school campus may be sensible, yet contactless thermometers are expensive and may be in short supply.
Schools can set up quarantine facilities for students with fever, but if insufficient tests are available it will complicate decisions. Wearing a mask might also be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce among students. Enhanced cleaning of surfaces after the school day, training, and frequent schedule campus-wide handwashing can be another vital element of promoting hygiene. Yet, such measures may not effective and implementation may not be easy for a school authority.
To be contd
About the writer:
University of Delhi & Former Research Associate Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi
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