Minister of Education, Ramesh Pokhriyal, announced on 10th August 2020 that there shall be no zero academic year for Indian students. However, he did not divulge any detail/plan for the reopening of schools. The Central Government covered all the sectors in COVID-19 Unlock but did not make a single statement about the reopening of schools – how and when, the nitty-gritty details.
Finally, on 5th October 2020, almost 2 months after the Minister’s proclamation, Union Education Ministry issued guidelines about the reopening of schools. Given the high stakes of the learning and education for the nation’s future citizens, in the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic, there were high expectations from the Government.
A parent would expect that the Government will take concrete steps in creating a safe and protected environment for the country’s children when they resume their physical schooling. A parent would expect that the guidelines will evoke trust and conviction about sending their wards to schools. In short, parents expected an assurance that their children shall receive the utmost care and caution.
So, what do the guidelines convey?
Only Exams Matter
As per the guidelines, students can attend schools only with the written consent of parents. This is brilliant, outright exceptional. With the COVID-19 cases at its peak, this is the same Government that pushed the students to give JEE and NEET entrance exams. The students protested, the parents objected but the Government would have none of it.
The Government made noises about the future of students at stake. The Supreme Court concurred. Why did the thought of “parental consent” not occur to the Government for these entrance exams? How are schools and exams different to warrant dissimilar treatment? How can the Government have different yard-sticks for similar contexts?
The Government might say that exams are one-off and schools are daily. So, does it imply that one-off exam/stress/travel/risk does not entail parental concern? Does it mean that parents do not bother/care for the well-being of their children when they go out to give exams?
In short, the Government considers itself empowered to take decisions on behalf of parents and students for entrance exams. However, when it comes to daily attendance in schools, it brings up the charade of “parental consent” being supreme.
Is this hypocrisy/incoherence or a simple fact that it is only the entrance exams that matter in the Indian educational system, the rest is optional. In this case, “parental consent” is not a guideline at all, it is a pretence. Irrespective of a student attending the school or not, s/he will be forced to give NEET and JEE, next year.
The Central Government Would Not Take Any Responsibility
For every Unlock measure, the Central Government has been the final authority. It decides, announces and ensures that everyone, including the opposition-led States follow the suit. However, when it has boiled down to the reopening of schools, surprise, surprise, it has left the final decision to the respective State Governments. It is a bit more than the sovereignty of exams that is driving the Central Government in its decision-making of reopening of schools.
This is the authoritarian Government of a one-man show. It does not trust any meaningful decision-making to even his Cabinet Ministers. It leaves no stone unturned to make everyone fall in line for its one size fits all approach. And, now suddenly, this control freak Government cedes control of the decision on reopening of schools. What’s going on?
Have you gone through the guidelines on the reopening of schools? None of them, repeat, none of them has any deliverable listed against the name of the Central Government. Apart from handing down far-fetched and absurd directives, it does not have any other tasks. No responsibility, no onus, no accountability.
The Central Government seems to have learnt from its utter failure of dealing with migrant workers’ plight during the lock-down. It has understood that it has no clue about the ground situation and it has no bandwidth to influence the outcome/solution of the problem. Better to stay away. This is showing up in the most unlikely field: reopening of schools.
If anything goes wrong, which it might as well, why to come in the firing line of parents? Why bear the brunt of the irate parents? Leave everything to the States and schools. In case of an outbreak, play the blame-game of not adhering to the guidelines, which are beyond anyone to follow.
Reopening of schools is the final frontier
In nutshell, all of us know that Indians will bear all the pain when it comes to their progeny. We live and die to better the prospects of our offspring. There is no wrath worse than that of the offended parent. So, better not deal with them for a problem that you cannot solve but can only theorize. Yes, the promise of a career of an engineer/doctor matter even more, so entrance tests are acceptable.
Nobody knows this better than Narendra Modi. Hence, reopening of schools is and shall remain the final frontier in India’s COVID-19 Unlock; no matter everything else has been unlocked.
Just that, this is neither going to help the future of Indian children in any manner by impacting their learning and education in a positive manner nor the state of the Indian economy.
Will anyone take the responsibility of educating India’s children, equitably and fairly, by owning up reopening of schools?