School Without School Bags: The Only Way To Rid Students Of The Weight Of School Bags

We saw that School Bag Policy 2020 is a casual and miserable attempt to help students. The recommendations of School Bag Policy 2020 increase the weight of school bags further. So, how to deal with the issue? The solution is simple – School Without School Bags.

There are a host of recommendations that academicians/learning experts/schools/courts/activists – in short – Adults will come up with to reduce the weight of school bags. Each of these measures is a tried and tested failure. Yet, they keep going around serving no purpose whatsoever.

Let’s go through this list of failures to convince us that there is no other solution than a school without school bags.

The Failed Recommendations

The locker @ schools: If schools do have the bandwidth for additional space and infrastructure, they rather use it for play-grounds and spacious classrooms. Not a feasible concept for the majority of schools.

Replace books with tablets: Another impractical suggestion. Till the time, the students are rid of written exams, the books can’t get replaced.

Bagless Days: Well, the children face the issue of carrying the weight of school bags on all the days and not on just one day of the week. Is the objective to get rid of the burden on one day and then, pile it up on other days?

Students to be given food and water in school: Apart from mid-day meal serving Government schools and high-end private schools that last for the whole day, other schools can’t follow this dictum. Is it practically possible for 500 + students to drink water in 20-30 minutes from 5-10 taps (and they drink water in the last 5-10 minutes of the recess and not the first 10-15 minutes)?

Moreover, it is not lunch boxes and water bottles that make the weight of school bags but notebooks, textbooks, reference books and the lot. This recommendation is barking at the wrong tree.

School bags to be made of lighter material: Arre, why don’t they get it? It is not the school bag that is heavy, what is inside the bag, that is heavy. Another option shooting from the hip.

  • Notebooks will be made of 40 pages, hence it will be lighter.
  • Schools will follow the semester/trimester pattern. Books will be divided into 2/3 parts, hence they will be lighter.
  • Students will be given two sets of textbooks, one for home and one for school.
  • Schools can have block/double periods of the same subject. Hence, students need to carry lesser books.

And who will keep track of these multiple sets of books? The poor child has more than enough to lift, now he/she will have more than enough to keep count/tally of. She/he might end up carrying every set of books – home/school/finished/unfinished, increasing the weight further. It is sheer torture to keep studying the same subject for one and a half hour or more. Only the adults can come up with inane suggestions like this. Give the poor child a break.

Please bring up other options, if any and you can see for yourself that they are unworkable too. If you feel otherwise and are convinced about the feasibility of any of the suggestions above to reduce the weight of school bags, please show them in a live application in more than 5 schools.

School Without School Bags

The student spends 5-8 hours in school. After that, the poor fellow has to attend tuitions/coaching classes, now the study apps also get added to the list. Further, consider sports/dance/music/any other classes of the parent’s choice. The child has to have screen time too. Where is the time for him/her to study at home? Then, why not keep the school bag at school only?

Where to keep the school bag in school? There are no locker/shelves? But, why do you need one? There is nothing that happens in the classroom once the students leave. The school bag can very well be left on the student’s desk. What’s the worry about safety? It is a school, after all. Not a place for pick-pockets.

The student has to do homework, so he/she needs to carry books home. But, I suppose the expert group appointed by the Ministry of Education has said that there is no homework up to Class II, a maximum of two hours a week from Classes III-V, middle school (from Classes VI-VIII), a maximum of one hour a day.

For this minimal work, what is the need to carry the entire school bag? Why not keep homework books at home and send the snap-shots to the teacher for checking? This is claimed to be happening during the online learning of the COVID-19 period, why not co-opt changes during the normal period?

The student has to do project work. Well, project work requires a different set of materials and books altogether. Let’s not club it with the regular school bag.

What about tuitions/coaching classes? They give their own study-material. They have no use of what is carried in a school bag.

But, the student has to study for exams. The poor chap is being continuously taught in schools/coaching classes/tuitions/apps. Do you really feel that he/she needs to study further for exams?

Please bring up other doubts, if any and you can see for yourself that they would get resolved too.

The Nostalgia Crap

  • Banning school bags will make children lazier and they will always seek a comfortable life.
  • Without school bags, the school life of children remains incomplete.
  • For school going kids, their bag is their treasure box where they keep all their important things.
  • The school bag is also a measure of teaching children to be responsible for their belongings.

The above points and any other similar ideas are pure and unadulterated nonsense. Anybody raising them shows the uselessness of the Indian education system that they claim to have studied in.

It only means that the adults, who lifted school bags in their childhood, cannot imagine a school without school bags for today’s children. Their attitude is more like, I had to bear the burden, so should you. Can you really expect these childish adults to solve any damn issue, leave aside the weight of school bags?

In short

Did anyone ever consider that Indian students will study from home for one full year and they will be fine? Well, everyone claims to have done exactly that and doing well. Desperate times of COVID-19, desperate measures of online learning, one would say.

Similarly, the weight of school bags is a desperate problem deserving of a creative measure. All the solutions devised till now have not worked. Why not re-phrase the question? Why not question the utility of carrying a school bag from home to school and back to home? It is absolutely not serving any purpose in today’s education system. It can very well be left at school and that should be fine.

To be honest, I don’t see any wrong in the idea of school without school bags. What about you?

PS: I am a stay-at-home father to six-year-old twin daughters, neither an educationist nor an expert. The above thoughts are an expression of parenting is having an opinion, getting involved and trying to better.

Stand UP, Speak OUT!!! #IAmAParent.

School Bag Policy 2020: Weight Of School Bags Increases Further

I have written about how School Bag Policy 2020 is a casual and miserable attempt to help students. The policy is such a wretched document that just the primer and the notification took up an entire article. In fact, each sentence of the policy is such a gem in itself that even an epic cannot do justice to its marvellous and spectacular silliness and stupidity.

Anyhow, to keep the discussion short and save you the long-winded road to nowhere, let’s go directly to the recommendations in the School Bag Policy 2020 for the reduction in the weight of school bags.

Pass The Buck To Parents And Students

Sample some of the advice put forth in School Bag Policy 2020:

  • School Bag Awareness Programme needs to be held in the beginning of every academic session, wherein parents and students would get orientation on this issue.
  • Information about the heavy bag needs to be communicated to the parents of the child and the bag needs to be monitored for a week or two for ensuring that the child starts carrying a lighter bag.
  • Counseling sessions for students to bring lighter school bags. Parents are asked to monitor the weight of school bag.

Does the policy imply that it is a hobby of students to lug heavy school bags to schools? Does the policy assume that every parent wants their child to be a champion weight-lifter and hence deck them up with the hefty school bags? Or is there a hypothesis that each day children carry some kind of hidden treasure from their respective homes to unload into the schools?

Each parent of a school-going child and the child will vouch that they have no say in what’s to be carried to schools each day. The schools barrel them down with textbooks and reference books, notebooks and activity books, diaries and journals etc. What options do the parents and the children have apart from toeing the line, paying the bills and hauling the school bags?

Who needs to attend the School Bag Awareness Programme? The parents and the children or the flawed educational establishment? The schools themselves have stuffed the school bags and mandated them to be carried in full. What purpose does the information to the parents about the heavy bags serve? Who needs counseling here? The expert group who drew up the School Bag Policy 2020 is a sure-shot candidate, but the students???

Cloud Cuckoo Land

The reality as mentioned by the expert group is in stark reality to the flight of fantasy recommendations arrived at by the same fanciful group, in the same report.

The reality: In Classes I-II, the homework hours vary from 0 to 2 hours daily. Whereas, for Classes III onwards, it varies from 2 to 5 hours daily.

The recommendation: NO homework up to Class II and a maximum of two hours a week from Classes III-V.

The expert group knows that children are loaded with homework. Yet, it makes a pious announcement that there shall be no homework going ahead. Who is going to ensure the implementation of this cuckoo recommendation?

The reality: Though only 2 subjects are recommended for Class I-II, yet many schools offer other subjects. For Classes III-V, beyond NCF-2005 recommendations, there is a range of subjects which is offered by the schools.

The recommendation: As per the NCF-2005, schools shall offer two Languages and Mathematics in Classes I-II and two Languages, Mathematics and Environmental Studies in Classes III-V.

Nation Curriculum Framework 2005 exists since 2005. Yet, the schools do not follow it. What makes the expert group think that now suddenly the schools will consider it a gospel?

The reality: Schools prescribe more than one textbook for the same subject in secondary and higher secondary classes.

What? Leave aside school bags, why not penalize these schools for violating basic norms?

The expert group has unearthed all the above reality in their survey. And the expert group knows very well that the schools are a law unto themselves and there is no curbing their behaviour. Yet, it gives sermons to follow the laid-down directives that nobody has followed till now, not following as on date and not going to follow in future.

The Other Gems

  • The issues related to heavy school bag need to be included in the pre-service and in-service teacher education curriculum.
  • Designing of textbooks with less information and more space to experiential learning.
  • Students need to be taught on how to use ‘filing’ in an efficient and intelligent way.

Well, I am going to stop here. Hope you get the picture.

In nutshell, the National School Bag Policy 2020 is full of inanities and absurd recommendations.

Ministry of Education, CBSE, NCERT, Schools, Expert Group – are aware of what goes into the making of a heavy school bag. They, themselves, are part of the problem and they cannot be expected to arrive at a solution. With them at the helm of affairs and their beloved School Bag Policy 2020, the weight of school bags is only going to increase further.

The real solution is fair and simple – School Bag Free Education. I will write about it in the next article.

PS: I am a stay-at-home father to six-year-old twin daughters, neither an educationist nor an expert. The above thoughts are an expression of parenting is having an opinion, getting involved and trying to better.

Stand UP, Speak OUT!!! #IAmAParent.

School Bag Policy 2020: A Casual And Miserable Attempt To Help Students

Ministry of Education, Government of India released School Bag Policy 2020 on 24th November 2020. One might think that now the load of the school children has been taken care of. The children and the parents can have a sigh of relief. Finally, the issue of “weight of school bags” has been resolved.

Wrong on all the counts. The so-called School Bag Policy 2020 has nothing, repeat nothing, to lessen the burden of school children. At best, it is a casual and miserable attempt to address a crucial issue and ends up doing a disservice to the future generations of the country.

Let’s go through what the School Bag Policy 2020 has to offer.

The Primer

School Bag Policy 2020 is an 83-page document. A policy expected to lighten the weight is itself bulky. You would suppose the Government policies are meant to be cumbersome. Else, what’s the proof of the long-winded deliberations made?

It has been drawn up by an expert group of 7 administrators and academicians. You would wonder why the parents and the primary stake-holders i.e. the children would not get to discuss and decide on an issue that affects them the most. Well, that is not how the know-all and decide-all Indian Government is known to function.

The policy has been made in reference to the judgment of Madras High Court dated 19.05.2018, a good two and a half years before the policy announcement date. The Expert Group members met four times from October to December 2018, so that the report could finally see the light of the day 2 years later. But, again you would know that the wheels of the Government move slowly.

The policy refers to Learning without Burden, Report of the Yash Pal Committee, (MHRD, 1993); The Children’s School Bag (Limitation on Weight) Bill, 2006; CBSE Circular No.07.2006 on Subject – Reducing the Bag Load on Children and 4 other documents of guidelines/measures/decisions on managing the weight of school bags.

You would wonder if such has been the history of our failed attempts to rein in the weight of school bags, how the latest one will succeed. Needless to say, the current one does not list earlier efforts as failures or mentions any learning from them. Anyway, the Government is not expected to be backward looking, so that should be fine.

The Notification

The order of the Under Secretary to the Govt. Of India notifying the School Bag Policy 2020 mentions that “the School Bag Policy would be suitably modified/revised”. This is beyond belief. I mean what can be more meaningless than this.

You are announcing a certain policy after so much huffing and puffing. And when you do it, you say in the same breath that it will be changed. Then, what’s the whole purpose of huffing and puffing? Why not publish the policy after “suitable modification/revision”? But, I suppose all these are trivial to the mighty Indian Government. Maybe, another expert group is already in the pipeline. Who knows?

The notification mentions “The compliance report in this regard may be shared with this Department”. That’s it. No mention of the format/frequency/scope/process/time-line of the compliance report. No mention, at all. You would suppose the compliance report is a top-secret hush-hush affair. The lesser mortals should not get to know how Government compliance happens.

You would think the notification will list the essence of the policy or the major recommendations of the policy. Again wrong. The notification tom-toms the NEP 2020 and nothing but the NEP 2020. From the phrasing of the notification, you would be forgiven to believe that it is for the promotion of NEP 2020 and not about some abstract notion of School Bag Policy 2020. Well, the Government has to multi-task, beyond the understanding of common citizens.

Meaning of School Bag

The expert group has elucidated the meaning of school bag as per the Collins English Dictionary and Cambridge English Dictionary “verbatim” for reference. You would just love these guys, wouldn’t you? I mean they take the weight of school bags so literally and exactly – the physical load. Unless for them, how would anyone know the meaning of the words “school bag”?

The expert group would not venture into the mental load of non-comprehension i.e. the curriculum load. To be fair to them, they have mentioned it once and I have picked the terminology from them. But that’s about it and no further. Maybe, it is another expert group’s weighing up – the mental load on the school children.

Casual And Miserable

Well, I did not take up the School Bag Policy 2020 for an enlightening on the insipid working of the Government of India. But, that’s what happened before I reached the main contents of the much-awaited but utterly indecisive and faltering policy. The Government’s approach is casual and miserable, to say the least.

Does anyone really expect a Government policy made with so much preponderance to help children in any manner possible? Spending a precious two and half years to come up with a wishy-washy policy not even worth the paper it will be printed upon is surely not an approach to deal with an essential issue of India’s future generations. India’s children deserve better.

Please read here, the recommendations of the School Bag Policy 2020 and how it will further increase the weight of school bags.

PS: I am a stay-at-home father to six-year-old twin daughters, neither an educationist nor an expert. The above thoughts are an expression of parenting is having an opinion, getting involved and trying to better.

Stand UP, Speak OUT!!! #IAmAParent.

Ministry of Education Should Be Renamed Ministry of Examinations

Recently, Ministry of Human Resource Development was renamed Ministry of Education by Government of India. A well-meaning gesture, one would say. A long-winding name, hard to decipher, gets replaced by a sweet and short one. The new name connotes the priority and objective of the department – what it upholds and works for. However, basis the actual actions of the department, I propose to rename it as Ministry of Examinations.

Under normal circumstances, actions of a Government department do not come to a layman’s notice unless it does something truly path-breaking. But these are not regular conditions. This is the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. After the Ministry of Health, if there is one Ministry that would be of utmost importance to citizens – it is the Ministry of Education.

It is the actions during this pandemic that signifies what the Ministry stands for and acts for. This is the time when the students need help, the parents need support for their children, the schools and colleges need back-up aid. Ministry of Education could have taken steps to justify and come true to its new name. It could have been the supreme champion of Indian education and become the most celebrated Ministry in the Government.

In reality, what has been the Ministry up to?

Guidelines and Guidelines and Examinations

Ministry of Education has released umpteen guidelines on online education. There is no follow-up on the efficacy, students left out, execution by the schools etc. The Ministry claimed to circulate a number of online modules for teaching. Again no data on how many students, teachers and schools actually benefitted, the reach etc.

Once the pandemic started to subside, the Ministry released guidelines on reopening of schools and colleges. Post the guidelines, the Ministry went into hibernation with no report on whether the States are following the directions. As on date, few schools and colleges have opened in bits and pieces or they are going to reopen now.

What happens to students left out by online education/unable to cope with the demands of screen-only learning? What about parents that are unable to pay the fees? How about the schools and colleges that do not have the bandwidth for online classes/reopening protocols? What about the well-being of teachers in private schools?

No answers. No ownership. Now, compare this with the self-righteous zeal for JEE/NEET/final-year college exams.

At that point of time, COVID-19 had just about started to recede, but the exams were held nonetheless. There were a big hue and cry by the students and the parents, but ultimately in the dog-eat-dog world of ultra-competitive entrance exams, they had to fall in line.

Though, nothing much has happened post the first-year admissions in engineering/medical colleges. That’s fine. Entrance examinations were mandatory. Final year college exams were a charade and after the graduation, students have few jobs on offer. That’s fine. Final year examinations were mandatory.

What’s the learning from the above-mentioned real-life actions by the Ministry? Mention the word Examinations and the Ministry swings into action. Else, it is the case of some guidelines here and there followed by a prolonged slumber.

No Alternative To Examinations

Indian education is infamous for the single-minded focus on rote learning that can be evaluated only by writing exams. Ministry of Education, coinciding with the name change, released the New Education Policy (NEP). However in that too, the focus on examinations has not got diluted any bit. Apart from the dreadful suggestion of primary education in mother tongue, it has nothing new to offer, least on exams.

The students are told to think out of the box, re-imagine, re-invent and all such theory. However, when it is about coming up with an option to the rote fest, the Ministry is devoid of ideas. Leave aside coming up with an option, we are made to believe that there is no alternative at all.

In regular times, nobody would discuss discarding the fossilized notion of exams that we have. If even during this unprecedented times, we cannot let go of our perception that there is no alternative to the normal exams; what a new normal are we talking about?

To reduce the students’ stress, what has the Ministry done? Reduce the syllabus by 30% but it is the exams for the remaining 70% that will matter. The syllabus can be worked around, but not the exams. The Ministry has let known the priorities to all.

Ministry of Examinations, It Is

All through the COVID-19 pandemic, what have been the maximum interactions of Honourable Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal about? Announcing the examination dates.

What did he speak about other than exams? I have not come across anything. If you get to know, please do share. His Ministry and his good self know nothing other than the exams, exams and the exams. At least, that is what his and the Ministry’s actions show and prove.

In light of the above, I propose to rename the Ministry of Education as Ministry of Examinations.

What are your views on this subject?

PS: PS: I am a stay-at-home father to six-year-old twin daughters, neither an educationist nor an expert. The above thoughts are an expression of parenting is having an opinion, getting involved and trying to better.

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.

Government Says No Zero Academic Year. But What’s And Where’s The Plan To Reopen Schools & Colleges?

India has been in the state of health emergency since March 2020. The Government’s response has lurched from half-baked lockdown to various stages of unlock. However, one aspect has remained constant throughout. The educational institutes of all hues remain shut. The Government has steadfastly maintained that the safety of children is the first priority.

This measure is, of course, very well received by the parents. Now, the next step for parents is to worry about the education of their children. Online education has been going on in various forms, but it cannot be expected to replace the in-person teaching of schools & colleges. The parents are anxious that the children have no learning loss and do not miss out on their study.

To allay this fear, the Government of India has proclaimed “The Centre will not allow this to be a “zero academic year” without any teaching or examinations.” On 10th August 2020, Ramesh Pokhriyal said “A decision on physical reopening of schools & colleges is likely within 10-15 days”. To quote the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development “This is appreciable”.

On 8th June 2020, Union School Education Secretary Anita Karwal said “The Centre was framing guide-lines for safe reopening of schools. Guidelines are likely to include rigorous health screening and quarantine protocols, hygiene measures, and staggered attendance for students allowing for blended learning from classrooms and home”.

What’s and where’s the plan to reopen schools & colleges?

The Government’s announcements are well-intentioned. However, seemingly, they are missing out on the detailing. More than 15 days have passed since the Minister’s remarks, but there is no further discussion on dates to reopen schools & colleges. More than two and half months have passed since the Secretary’s remarks, but no guide-lines have been published by the Government to reopen schools & colleges.

This is baffling. The schools & colleges cannot reopen from the next day of the reopening announcement. They need the time to train the teachers and the support staff, they need the time to improve on the school infrastructure; they need the time to prepare for the reworked academic calendar. All these preparations require resources, time and money.

The diverse universe of schools & colleges operates on different band-widths and capabilities. Some of them may readily be able to make the required changes. Many of them may require hand-holding in various stages of the proposed changes. Few of them may require additional manpower and financial support to help them navigate the changes.

All the above will become clear only when the purported plan by the Government shows up, which continues to be under wraps.

What to do when infections happen?

Once the schools & colleges reopen, the few students/teachers/support staff will inevitably get infected with COVID-19. What’s supposed to be the threshold for the educational institute to continue its operations and when should it shut down? If required to shut down, what should be the contingency plan? When to reopen next? What happens if again the infections soar?

Rather, the first step to reopen schools & colleges would be to define the acceptable level of infections and the rate of spread in the ward/locality/geographical unit. In the Indian context, the students are spread all across the city/state/country and not limited to a neighbourhood. A large number of students stay away from their families to pursue their education. How do deal with the infections and the treatment in such a scenario?

Seemingly unrelated but a relevant aspect of handling infections with the reopening is to decide on the state of other activities. Should the functioning of religious places/restaurants/non-essential travel etc be curbed to reduce the chances of infections for educational institutions? COVID-19 is making us prioritize. Till now, we have prioritized safety of children. Now, to prioritize the education, if something else needs to be stepped down, so be it.

All these will be up for debate only when the Government shows what it has thought on the subject.

The parents, teachers, support staff are all stake-holders

The Government keeps mentioning about the educational institutions as a single entity. The focus on management is vital as they are responsible for the decision-making of their organizations and their buy-in is a must for the reopening. They are the ones who would be ensuring that the Government guide-lines are adhered to. But, they are not the only ones.

None work in isolation in today’s inter-connected world. Depending on the Government guide-lines, every parent needs to make their planning and decisions. Risk acceptance levels vary for different people. Some may perceive the Government’s steps to be unsafe, may want to hold back their wards and they should have equal right to do so.

Teachers and support staff are extremely important stakeholders in the entire process of reopening. Somehow, they lack opinion and seem to be taken for granted. They are the bread-winners for their families and would be worried about what happens to them if they get infected with COVID-19. An insurance and treatment plan for them would give them confidence about resumption.

Again, no clarity for any of the stake-holders. Rather, it does not seem that the Government is even contemplating their participation in the decision-making process.

No Zero Academic Year

No Zero Academic Year is a wish for every parent, student and all the other stakeholders too. The Government is desperate for a No Zero Academic Year, presumably to keep all the constituents happy, but it is not showing equal desperation in coming up with inputs and strategies to achieve the desired output. To repeat, what’s and where’s the plan to reopen schools & colleges?

The seamless transition to the Government guide-lines to reopen schools & colleges is not going to happen over-night. It is going to require lots of preparations, moving back and forth, also to ensure that the weakest of them do not fall through the sieve. The ball will start rolling only when the Government makes its plan public. The sooner, the better.

Wish the Government shows the same urgency for the plan to reopen schools & colleges as conducting JEE/NEET and college final year exams.

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.