The J&K administration’s decision to reopen schools in Kashmir for offline classes from March 1 has triggered both scepticism and concern. And rightly so. Not that this decision, which people were eagerly waiting for, is an unwelcome one. But in a choice between the safety of children and their schooling, one needs to tread with utmost caution to ensure that the safety of school-going children is not compromised in any manner. And the primary onus to ensure that safety lies with the government as well as the school managements.
Though the WHO data suggests that children under the age of 18 years represent about 8.5% of reported COVID19 cases, with relatively few deaths compared to other age groups and usually mild disease, the world body has advised caution and also reported cases of critical illnesses among children. Several schools in the US, and some other countries, have reported cases of COVID19 in schools after these were reopened for physical classes.
Why the proposed re-opening of schools requires a caution—if not an immediate rethink—is the increase in the number of COVID19 cases in several states in India, including Maharashtra and Kerala. And this sudden spike has been linked, by some top doctors in Kashmir, with the possibility of a “second COVID19 wave”. In the last few days of February this year, the J&K UT has seen a spike in COVID19 cases, mostly travellers from other parts of the country or aboard, leading to renewed concerns and clamour urging people to adhere to SOPs governing COVID19. And this concern should draw the UT administration to watch out the reopening of schools very closely and ensure that the decision doesn’t, in any manner, prove counterproductive knowing well the apparent scarcity of adequate space, infrastructure and facilities in the Valley schools, especially those run by the government itself.
Though the WHO data suggests that children under the age of 18 years represent about 8.5% of reported COVID19 cases, with relatively few deaths compared to other age groups and usually mild disease, the world body has advised caution and also reported cases of critical illnesses among children. Several schools in the US, and some other countries, have reported cases of COVID19 in schools after these were reopened for physical classes. A report on February 7 said in Maharashtra 550 students tested positive in two days, leading to clamour for the closure of schools again.
In view of the fresh concerns, the UT administration needs to keep a close eye on schools and put in place a robust mechanism to monitor the situation in schools on a regular basis post their reopening. It must constitute special teams to liaise with school managements and principals—both in private and government-run schools—on the emerging Covid scenario and take prompt decisions in case of any eventualities. On its own part, the administration shouldn’t be caught napping in ensuring adherence by school heads to the COVID19 protocols while ensuring that academic institutions deficient in facilities required for such adherence are immediately identified for fixing of the problems. Any laxity or failure to monitor the situation can prove detrimental to the cause of reopening of schools as well as to contain the possible “second wave”. Children will be returning to the schools after more than a year of chaos, panic and distress. They have suffered the brunt of the pandemic badly. And returning to schools must not, in any manner, cause them any further anxiety and distress. The government has to ensure it, as much as it can.