Higher educational institutions in Kerala are set to reopen on October 4, long after they were shut down with the outbreak of COVID-19 early last year. Discussions are reopening schools too are on.
General Education Minister V Sivankutty has said that an expert committee would be appointed to assess the various measures for the safe reopening of schools.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan exuded hope that the schools can be opened without much delay. The date would be decided upon after taking into account the health department's report and the guidelines of the expert committee on COVID-19.
Experts point out that precautions should be taken on various matters if schools are to be reopened as the pandemic is yet to subside. Precautionary measures are essential when students travel to schools, while on campus and even on returning home.
Challenge: Ensuring COVID-19 precautions while travelling would pose a bigger challenge for children than adults.
» It would be better if parents take the children to school.
» If school vehicles are used, crowding has to be avoided.
» The vehicle needs to be disinfected daily and the vehicle staff need to use sanitiser and masks.
» Students need to take only the least-crowded public buses.
» If convenient, it is advisable to use double masks.
Back at home
Challenge: Although COVID-19 does not cause major health problems in children, they could be carriers of the infection.
» As soon as children reach home, they should take a bath using soap.
» Avoid interacting with the elderly, pregnant women, and those with serious ailments.
» Using masks at home would also reduce the risk of infection.
» Clothes need to washed daily with soap
» Do not intermix the text books and other study materials with the household articles.
Challenge: As children come from different localities, it would be a big challenge even if one case is reported in school.
»Students must be instructed not to come to schools even if they have minor symptoms.
» There should be thermal screening at the school entrance itself. It is better not to allow parents to enter the school campus.
» Arrangements should be made at the nearby health centre to examine the children if they have fever.
» Ensure sanitiser at all classes.
» Keep masks in stock to be given to the children, if needed.
Challenge: The biggest challenge would be to ensure that children do not make any lapses in following the precautionary measures. Special care should be taken in case of serious ailments.
» Make children understand about the need of using masks at all times, except while having food or drinking food.
» Children should use masks that perfectly cover their face. If a large mask is used, the virus can enter through the gap.
» Remind them to keep a 1-metre distance from other children and to frequently cleanse their hands with soap and sanitiser.
» Discourage the sharing of books, study materials and food with fellow students for the time being.
» Also, give them a handkerchief, water bottle and an additional mask.
Challenge: Though the government announced that complete vaccination of teaching and non-teaching staff would be ensured, accurate figures are not available.
» Headteachers, PTA members and local bodies should ensure that all teachers and staff are vaccinated. Ensure that the unvaccinated staff are inoculated on a priority basis.
» In matters of wearing masks and using sanitiser, teachers should be the role model for students. They should also frequently remind the children about strictly following the precautionary measures.
» Teachers should give importance to the psychological well-being of the children. Instil confidence in them. Share scientific facts about COVID-19 with them. Also, give clear explanations about post-Covid complications in children such as MIS-C.
» Create proper awareness among children.
Dr K Suresh Kumar, an expert committee member, has pointed out that proper awareness on precautions should be created among children, especially those from homes with elderly and people with serious ailments.
Children should be told about the precautions to be taken while commuting in school bus or public transport, he added.
Dr A Althaf, associate professor, community medicine, Manjeri Medical College, also stressed that care should be taken to ensure that children are not scared by the curbs. Instil confidence in them. Create scientific awareness about the disease, he explained.
But Dr T S Anish, associate professor, community medicine, Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, is of the view that the schools should be opened only after the current pace of transmission declines. Small children are at a lesser risk of getting infected. Therefore, it is advisable to open primary schools first. Teachers should set an example for children. Teachers should also avoid having food together, he added.
Dr Divya C Senan, assistant professor, Department of Education, Kerala University, says that children might initially find it difficult to attend class continuously like before. Taking note of this, class timings should be rescheduled. Focus should be on personality development. Also, identify students who were not accustomed to digital classes and give special attention, she suggested.
Batch/ shift arrangement in school
Students should be divided into batches to ensure social distancing, depending on the size of the classroom. At least one-metre of distance between children should be ensured. A shift system should be in place to avoid the rush during the start and end of the day, and in school buses. Children should be made aware of the gravity of the situation.
Use of labs, library
Avoid projects for which children need to work in groups. Ensure that they do not exchange articles with another. Lab equipment and books, used by one student, should be disinfected before giving to another.
Interval, lunch break
Do not give breaks for all classes at the same time. Teachers should ensure that children do not crowd around during intervals. Ensure social distancing even while having food. Even at schools where mid-day meals are provided, children should not eat together.
Disinfect washrooms frequently. Students should not be allowed to crowd around outside washrooms. The use of soaps and sanitisers should be ensured. Provide facilities for proper disposal of sanitary pads.
In other states
Schools in various states are functioning by carrying out thermal screening, and ensuring the use of soap and sanitiser. The current situation and the guidelines followed by various states as follows:
» Classes 9 to 12 resumed from September 1.
» In most places, each division with 40 children was divided into two batches of 20. In the first week, classes 10 and 12 were held on all days and classes 9 and 11 on alternate days.
» Only two students on one bench.
» Vaccination camps were organised to ensure that the teaching and non-teaching staff received at least one dose of the vaccine.
»Soon after the schools reopened, 27 children and 12 teaching/non-teaching staff tested positive. But the health department stated that they did not get infected from school.
»Concerns are being raised over children crowding around outside schools and travelling in crowded buses. Masks are provided from schools for children who turn up without these.
» Classes 9 to12 began on August 23, and classes 6 to 8 on Tuesday.
» On day 1, attendance was low. Several private schools are yet to resume classes.
» Only schools in taluks where the Test Positivity Rate (TPR) is below 2 per cent were opened.
» Only students who came with the parents' consent letter were permitted entry. Those who do not wish to come to schools have been permitted to continue with online classes.
» Classes are being conducted with 50 per cent attendance on alternate days, five days a week.
» Schools will be disinfected during the weekend.
» Students, teachers and other school staff need to have RT-PCR certificate.
» Unvaccinated parents are not permitted entry into the school campus.
» Though permission has been given to resume classes 9 to 12 from September 1, several private schools are yet to reopen.
» Schools can function with 50 per cent attendance. Students can attend school on alternate days. But attendance is low even in government schools that have resumed offline classes.
» Teachers have been given both doses of the Covid vaccine.
» Students are not allowed to eat food inside the classroom. Also, staggered lunch breaks with more time.
» School bus facility has been done away with.
» Though the average daily number of cases has dropped to 4,000, schools are yet to reopen.