COVID-19: Hazards of not reopening schools too serious to be ignored, says parliamentary panel

The committee has noted that the closure of schools has not only impacted social fabric of families in a negative manner, it has also increased involvement of children in household chores.

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New Delhi: The hazards of not reopening schools after prolonged closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic are "too serious to be ignored", according to a parliamentary panel.

The committee has noted that the closure of schools has not only impacted social fabric of families in a negative manner, it has also increased involvement of children in household chores.

"The closure of schools for over a year has had a deep impact on the wellbeing of students, especially their mental health. The hazards of not opening the schools are too serious to be ignored. The confinement of young children within the four walls of the house, being unable to attend school, has altered the relationship between the parent and the children adversely.

"The closure of schools has impacted the social fabric of the family in negative manner leading to early/child marriage and increased involvement of children in household chores. The present situation has exacerbated the learning crisis that existed even before the pandemic with the marginal and vulnerable children getting adversely affected. Keeping this situation in mind, it becomes all the more imperative to open schools," the panel has noted.

This week the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports tabled in Parliament its report "Plans to bridge the learning gap caused due to school lockdown as well as review of online and offline instructions and exams and plans for reopening of schools" headed by Vinay P Sahsrabudhe.

The seriousness of the matter should not be overlooked and a well balanced reasoned view may be taken for opening up of the schools, the panel said.

Accentuating vaccine programmes for all students, teachers and allied staff so that schools may start functioning normally at the earliest; holding classes on alternate days or in two shifts to thin out students along with observance of physical distancing and compulsory wearing of face masks at all times, frequent hand sanitization etc; regular thermal screening at the time of attendance and conducting random RT-PCR tests to identify and isolate any infected student, teacher or staff immediately, are among the recommendations for reopening of schools made by the panel.

"Each school should have at least two oxygen concentrators with trained personnel to address any eventuality and provide first aid till availability of outside medical help. Frequent surprise inspection of schools may be done by health inspectors and health workers to ensure strict adherence to hygiene and COVID protocols, the panel said.

"Best practices being followed in different countries for opening of schools may be taken into consideration for taking an informed decision," it said.

The panel has also noted that the learning loss of more than one year due to prolonged school closure in wake of the pandemic would necessarily have weakened the foundational knowledge of students, especially in the subjects of mathematics, sciences and languages, at school level.

"This learning loss is a big deficit and is likely to impair the cognitive capabilities of students," the panel said in its report tabled in Parliament on Friday.

"This might have a debilitating effect on vulnerable sections of the society like poor and rural students, marginalised sections of society and young women who might have been unable to connect to any form of digital education during the pandemic. This needs to be addressed and immediate remedial steps required to be taken," the report said.

Schools across the country were closed in March last year ahead of nationwide lockdown to contain spread of novel coronavirus. While few states began partially reopening schools in October last year, they had to again order school closure in view of the aggressive second wave of COVID-19 in April-May. PTI

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