Kerala to reopen schools amidst rising safety concerns
Kozhikode: Kerala has decided to send its wards back to school after a long and uncertain hiatus. On November 1, kids will put on their uniforms again. This year, probably for the first time in history, we have the 'Pravesanolsavam' (welcome festival) for two batches, Class 1 and 2.
As the schools remained closed for one and a half years, questions about safety at schools amid the pandemic rose even further. 'Keeping our kids safe in schools is not restricted to the campus. It includes the safety of them from leaving home till arriving back,' says Pratheesh C Mamen, Programme Coordinator, Unicef-KSDMA.
During the lockdowns, schools have acquired the physical fitness certificate by May 31 itself, says A Aboobacker, Joint Director, Department of Education, who is in charge of school safety.
However, this is an annual routine. Every year, school authorities are legally bound to acquire the certificate which will be given after ensuring the safety of the school building and electricity connections.
The Education Department had released a 13-point instruction note in 2020 for school reopening after the first lockdown. Similar instructions were prepared for opening schools before exams this year. They are specific instructions directing schools to clean the campus, well, water tanks, clear dangerous trees, waste and check for pits etc. The more detailed standard operating procedure may come soon before the reopening, says Aboobacker.
'We have been telling teachers to think from the perspective of the students. There is a difference in the viewpoint of class 11 students and class 1 students towards a honeycomb. We have to think like a class 1 student,' Pratheesh says.
Teachers and the PTA have to apply their minds more to school safety.
Following the death of a student in Wayanad district due to a snakebite, schools in the district did a safety audit.
'There is a school which had to be closed during monsoon because it is near a dam. It is always waterlogged. When we visited, the base of its auditorium was almost gone. It had become useless. We asked them to not use it anymore,' Pratheesh said.
Putting the benches and desks one above another is a common scene in the schools. Such actions can lead to freak accidents. Unexpectedness is a key factor. Disaster may not always happen as we think, an expert told mathrubhumi.com.
Wayanad district now has a plan to start school-level disaster management clubs. 'It was planned after the snakebite accident. But got delayed due to Covid-19. We are ready with the plan. Will start immediately when schools are reopened,' an official with KSDMA said.
This school-level committee has the involvement of PTA as well.
Parents, students, teachers, non-teaching staff, cooks, local body members, police, fire force, and natives must be part of school-level safety committees, says Pratheesh.
'Students may not take the proper route to school or home. They may take an unpopular route. We have to make sure they do not meet with accidents during their travel to the school as well. Such things can be achieved only by the active participation of the locals,' he added.
'Also, exhibiting boards explaining what to do and what not is essential. For example, if there is a pit, kids must know they cannot go that way. It has to be notified. Install a billboard near the pit to avoid that route,' Pratheesh said.
Think about future
We have to think about the future, says Pratheesh. Localised natural disasters are now a part of Kerala. Local-level floods, whirlwinds are rampant in the state. Schools are our immediate shelter place. So the buildings need to be strong and useful enough, Pratheesh said.
Meanwhile, schools and PTAs are energised with the announcement of school reopening. We used to observe October first week as service week every year, to mark the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. This year, it will be redirected to clean schools, a UP school headmaster from Thrissur told mathrubhumi.com. From removing the weeds to cleaning the wells, school compounds await an enormous process. Higher secondary and high schools may relatively have lesser work as they had opened briefly for conducting exams.