A number of state governments have either put on hold reopening of schools or have announced a later date, showing reluctance as COVID-19 positive cases touch seven million across India.
The Madhya Pradesh government has put reopening of schools on hold as over 1,000 COVID cases are being reported everyday. Gujarat administration is looking forward to reopening schools after Diwali. The Goa government is thinking about consulting stakeholders but the state’s teachers’ associations are opposing restarting of physical classes. The Uttar Pradesh government is working towards resuming classes from October 19 whereby students will be called on alternative days.
Parents are anxious and fear their children will catch the contagious virus. Experts say that school children and adolescents can develop COVID-19, most remain asymptomatic or experience mild illness. The youngsters may be less susceptible to infection than older individuals. However, experts have also sounded the alarm that SARS-CoV-2 infections in children and adolescents are rising faster than in other age groups as restrictions have been eased. As stated earlier, minimizing the import of infections into schools can stem the spread of COVID-19. Daily symptom screening can identify individuals with COVID-19 at first presentation. Experts have pointed out that about 15 to 50 per cent of children and 10 to 30 per cent of adults will either not notice symptoms while their immune system fights the infection (asymptomatic carriers) or become infectious one to three days before symptom onset.
However, current diagnostic tests cannot identify silent infections reliably and are not sufficiently fast and inexpensive to make a school-wide testing-based surveillance system practical. The most effective tool for minimizing the risk of infections being carried into schools is to restrict in-person learning to when infection in the local community is controlled. Reports highlight that countries with widespread testing began opening schools with rigorous safety measures in place when fewer than 30 to 50 new infections were observed within seven days per 100,000 residents over a prolonged period. Countries providing in-person schooling with basic mitigation measures, such as social distancing, face masks worn in hallways but not classrooms, hand hygiene, ventilation and staying home with minimal symptoms, typically have close to zero community transmission.
It has to be highlighted that European countries, like France, UK and Germany, are determined to keep schools open in the fall because it enables parents to return to work and because of the social and economic scarring caused by months without face-to-face teaching for millions of students earlier this year. Schools that have already reopened in Europe have relied on isolating individual students or bubbles of children, while also tracing their immediate contacts. In first week of September, France recorded 8,577 new COVID cases but the education ministry said it would deploy all possible means to keep children in the classroom. Germany, which had a significant lower number of COVID cases, reopened schools in May but has been conducting large-scale testing of staff and pupils whenever necessary.
Schools in India can follow the same but at the end of the day, the parents will be burdened with the extra costs of testing and quarantine etc. And then there is also the stigma surrounding COVID patients and the mindset. Its quite complicated. Moreover, parents will not want to risk the health of their children. Besides, the education ministry is willing to let students of classes 9 to 12 attend classes but with parents consent.