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The Challenges Of Reopening Schools In A Post COVID World

This reality poses a lot of challenges that must be surmounted and questions that must be answered before reopening schools in the new post COVID reality.

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These are unprecedented times, never in our living memory has humanity faced such a challenge-medical, social and economic that threatens the viability of all human systems. One major challenge is that to education of our children.

I see a plethora of stories in various publications on COVID-19 and its impact on schools with largely a superficial analysis based on an assortment of quotes . However, the subject requires a deep understanding of interlinked and causal issues from the perspective of all concerned stakeholders.
People who are not involved in teaching in a school often fail to understand the challenges of running one. The number of moving parts is large and the risks huge. We are dealing with the health and life of young children and no one wants to put them at risk.
I work in an International school in Delhi which offers the I.G.C.S.E. and I.B. programmes and our pedagogical approach requires that students interact with each other, move about in the classroom and sit together to solve problems or work on projects in teams. We believe in student-centred teaching, where the teacher facilitates the learning. Classrooms are lively places where students sit together in small groups and engage in discussions with each other and the teachers.
Beyond the classroom we have P.E. activities, sports and games as well as music, theatre, dance etc. all of which involves a lot of movement and interaction amongst students in proximity or even involve physical contact.
While walking in the corridors in my school, it is very common to hear animated discussions and enthusiasticchildren high-fiving each other as they walk-past.
This reality poses a lot of challenges that must be surmounted and questions that must be answered before reopening schools in the new post COVID reality.
The first question is how will the school children come to school? Can we ensure buses are safe and do not become infection hot spots? Is it better to ask parents to reach their children to school instead?
We then must make sure that those infected or suspected to be infected do not come to school but teach or attend virtual classes. The role of parents in ensuring this is critical. Checking at time of entry is going to slow things down if we have many who are found to have high temperature or are coughing and sneezing. Workarounds are tedious and time and resource heavy.
Effective screening of the infected, asymptomatic carriers and those suspected to be COVID patients means that for the foreseeable future we are at best talking of a schoolwith blended teaching i.e. one in which students learn via electronic and online media as well as traditional face-to-face teaching, one in which physical classes and virtual learning go hand-in-hand. Students not in class need to access learning via a virtual platform, hence the need for internet connectivity between school and home.
Once in school we must maintain proper hygiene standards, hand washing, wearing of masks as well associal distancing, proper ventilation etc. while at the same time ensuring that we do not limit the interaction amongst the students that creates the magic. How do you do that in a class-room where everyone is sitting at least 6 feet apart, wearing masks and most likely all facing in one direction, since there is a need for these classes to be broadcast to the students?
Where do we find the indoor spaces large enough to accommodate the whole class while maintaining social distancing. More importantly what are the protocols to follow to ensure we are not putting the children at risk when they step out of the classroom? Are the corridors broad enough for students to pass each other? Do we have safe restrooms and water coolers? What is the risk in running a cafeteria with sharing of crockery and cutlery? Will we be able to ask students to submit their hand-written work? (Currently both the IGCSE and the I.B.D.P.requires students to hand write the external assessmentsand so they must practice that.) How do we do laboratory work for the sciences? All these are questions that my colleagues and I in the school are grappling with as we prepare to reopen after the summer break.
Believe me, there are no easy answers. We are aware of the psychological, behavioural and educational impact of not opening schools on children. We debate the issue of screen time, safeguarding of at-risk students as well as how to support those with Special Education Needs. Teams are discussing assessment for student learning, and how to hold end of term or end of year examinations in a virtual or blended classroom. These are people who have dedicated their professional lives to teaching children and are passionate about these issues.

The number of hours our teachers and senior leadership have spent from their holiday time on this gives me confidence that we will come up with solutions that will be the best for our students, the parents and our staff-members as always. As I speak with other schools, I know they too are working hard to find solutions that work best in their context and geography.

There will be no one-size fits all solution and it will require the close coordination and cooperation of students, staff and the parents. We may rephrase the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” to “It will take the world to educate a generation amidst change.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Sudhanshu Pant

The author is HR leader and domain expert currently Head of Human Resources at The British School.

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