Reopen Schools And Colleges. Lockdown Everything Non-Essential.

The Government of India has opened up everything in COVID-19 Unlock, except for schools and colleges. The Central Government, which presided over all the aspects of Unlock, has handed over the decision-making for reopening of schools and colleges to the State Governments. They, in turn, are dragging their feet over how and when to reopen schools and colleges.

From the peak of 95,000 + cases, the current daily case-load has dropped below 50,000 cases. Yet, few Governments have dared to reopen schools and colleges. The second wave of COVID-19 infections is expected sometime after Diwali. If schools and colleges do not reopen, now, even when the cases are down by 50% from the peak, reopening has no chance to happen when the cases soar again.

This would mean that almost the entire academic year would be lost for the students in terms of not able to attend schools and colleges for in-person teaching. In such a grim scenario, what could be the option to salvage the situation? Is it possible to ensure that a generation of students does not miss out on the essential learning outcome of an entire year?

I propose: Reopen Schools and Colleges. Lockdown Everything Non-Essential.

The detractors will say that it is a silly/ridiculous/impractical suggestion with no saving grace. As a parent, a citizen and a human being, I am convinced about the feasibility of my suggestion. I argue as given below to support my proposition.

Is Education Essential or Non-Essential?

In the Unlock, the Government of India started reopening essential services in decreasing order of priority. Hence, the iterations of Unlock 1.0 to 5.0. Now, with everything else open and only schools and colleges remaining closed, how is the Central Government viewing the education? Is it essential or non-essential? Surely, it cannot be later.

Let us compare the criticality of education vis-a-vis other sectors already reopened. Restaurants, malls, hotels, theatres, non-essential shops like garments, electronics etc. are open. The public gatherings of all the denominations are allowed. The Bihar state election too got conducted in the middle of the pandemic. How would you rate the importance of all these as compared to education?

In fact, the logic of essential/non-essential can be flipped to gauge the significance of education. The Government considers the education to be of the utmost consequence, that it does not even consider to reopen schools and colleges. By keeping them shut, the Government is admitting that education is the most valued aspect for the country and it cannot be risked.

Everybody agrees that education is vital for the future of the country. Then, why not walk the talk?

Adverse Impact on Economy/Jobs

The critics of the suggestion to shut down everything non-essential, to reopen schools and colleges, will say that the economy will be devastated. They will say that an enormous number of jobs will be lost. They will say that the GDP will contract, the share-market will collapse, the investors’ will lose confidence in the country etc.

Look at the actual picture, as on date. Share-market has regained all the 2020 losses and is inching northwards. The forex reserves of the country are at a record high. The GST collections have crossed the psychological 1 lac crore mark in October. Even with most of Q1 2020-21 lost in a lockdown, the GDP contraction was limited to 24%. As per Government projections, it will turn positive soon.

The Government has announced the Atmanirbhar Bharat package amounting to 10% of the GDP. The RBI has drastically reduced the interest rates. EMI moratorium has been backed up with interest waiver. The Government is so flush with funds; it is going around paying Diwali bonus. With so much going for the economy, it can surely absorb the shock of a few months.

Everybody will agree that the economic losses are transient and the economy will recover, as it has done already. More so, the Government has stepped in to support livelihoods and will keep doing, as the situation demands. However, the learning outcome loss for students cannot be bridged. It is gone forever unless there is a zero academic year.

Nobody Wants a Zero Academic Year

Ramesh Pokhriyal has already said that the Government will not allow a zero academic year. He is right. Not just the Government, the schools and colleges, the parents and most of all, the students do not deserve a zero academic year. Now, if that is out of the question, what should be done about ensuring the learning outcome for all the students?

Please keep out the charade of online learning from the discussion. If quality education can be had from watching the screens, let’s dismantle the schools and colleges. Has online learning ensured that no child is left behind? Is access to online learning been fair and equitable? Has the Government made even any effort in this direction?

BTW, if online learning from home is so effective, the JEE/NEET should have been conducted with students at home. Why should the exams be away from home when the study is fine being at home? The Government would say that this is silly/absurd/impractical. If that is so, so is the step to not own up to reopen schools and colleges.

Everybody will agree that the Government is treating physical attendance in schools and colleges arbitrarily, as it suits its objectives.

Reopen Schools and Colleges

The children have the right to proper education. It is dreadful to rob the children of their chance to excel in future. To make matters worse, the children do not even know what they are losing out on. For sure, no parent would want to see their children get promoted irrespective of the learning outcome.

Is it right to focus on today’s economic gain at the cost of tomorrow’s knowledge loss?

It is time to get our priorities right. Let’s reopen schools and colleges. Lockdown everything non-essential.

PS: European countries did precisely this. In their first COVID-19 lockdown, they started unlocking with educational institutions. Now, in their second lockdown, they are shutting down the rest, but not educational institutions. They know that education is essential and they walk the talk; not shy away unlike our Government and us.

COVID-19: A Helpless Parent, JEE/NEET/UGC And An Indifferent Government

I am a parent in India. Like every other parent, I try to keep my children safe and away from danger. This, seemingly an innocuous task, has turned out to be an onerous one beyond my capabilities. I do not know what to blame and how to take corrective measures in this unasked for situation. I just know that this involves my children, the centre of my life. They are at risk for no fault of them and I am just a helpless parent; who cannot do a thing to help them in any manner.

India’s tryst with coronavirus started in March 2020. The Prime Minister ordered a national lockdown in the last week of March 2020. The cases were in three digits, nationally, at that time. We were told to stay home, stay safe. Like every other citizen, I scared my family, children and parents to stay at home for their well-being and safety.

On the education front, the Government shut down all the schools and colleges. The exams were going on at the time of announcing the lockdown; all of them got postponed citing the safety of the students. Later, the board exams, CBSE, ICSE, States, got cancelled. There was a consistency in messaging – the children’s safety is paramount.

And now, suddenly, with the coronavirus cases hovering above 60 k on a daily basis and cumulative cases in excess of 31 lacs, the children are being asked to come out to give entrance tests and final year college exams. The Supreme Court has also ruled that NEET and JEE won’t be postponed. I don’t suppose their judgement will be any different in the UGC case.

No improvement, only deterioration

What has changed from March/April 2020 to August/September 2020 for a complete reversal of stance? In March/April 2020, I told my children that they should stay at home. In August/September 2020, I am expected to tell my children that they can go out to write exams. Leave aside my loss of credibility in front of my children, how do I allay their fears about their own lives?

Please get this straight. The children, no matter their age, are human beings in their own regard. They understand the goings-on around them. They comprehend that adults are fixated on a certain issue and that their parents have deviated from a normal life-style to keep everyone in the family safe. And, now, with the risks increased exponentially, why should they put their lives at risk?

There has to be perceptible progress in the circumstances to warrant a different decision. Here, we have none. Rather, the state of affairs is worsening. 1000+ people are dying daily due to Covid-19. The adults are not able to think beyond their lives and livelihoods, and we expect the children to think nothing beyond their exams!

Live with the virus, not die from the virus

The Government says that we need to learn to live with the coronavirus. The Supreme Court has said “COVID may continue for a year more. Are you going to wait for another year? Do you know what is the loss to the country and the career peril to the students?”

We signed up as parents to raise healthy children and not COVID warriors. The soldiers know that they might have to sacrifice their lives to protect their motherland. The doctors know that they carry a professional risk when they treat their patients with infectious disease. But children? What have they done to deserve a risk to their lives? They are not even adults. On what basis are children expected to put their life on the line? Children are surely not essential service workers.

I do not know whether COVID continues for a year. I know that it is the duty of the Government to keep the country safe. If the Government is not able to rid the country of the virus, how can it be the responsibility of the children to return to so-called normalcy? How have they failed that to pass the exams they have to put their lives at risk?

57000+ people have died due to COVID to date. And, more will die. Is this not a loss to the country? Who is going to claim this blood on their hands? Does the Government guarantee a career to the students who venture out to give exams in this scenario? If no, how can it ask the students to vie for an illusory career in exchange for a real-life?

 A helpless parent and the lonely angst

The Government knows that it is coming from a position of power, a position of unbridled brute dominance. The Government knows that in the dog eat dog world of the Indian education sector, where the elite medical and engineering seats are at a premium, there is no option for parents or the students to not give entrance exams if ordered to. They will have to fall in line, and they will.

In the Indian political landscape, each caste, each industry, each interest has a lobbying group to influence the decision-making process. But parents? The most-widely disseminated group has no unifying force that can speak in a single voice to get heard. The net result – The Government rams its way through with no opposition and the Supreme Court of India as a lead cheer-leader. Why should anyone bother for a helpless parent and her/his children?

Go ahead, my children. Give the exams. Though it is my duty as a parent, I cannot guarantee your safety anymore. Some of you may die, some of you may suffer from the disease, some of you may carry the scars for the rest of your life.

I am sorry for letting you down in the face of the Indian Government’s indifferent and inept handling of the pandemic. I am sorry.

A Helpless Parent

PS: The Government considers opening of children’s parks as a threat to life, but not giving exams. New Education Policy gets released and advertised, but we cannot look beyond the 3 hour rote fest.