Opinion

3 things we can all do to reopen education for our future

Dr. Swati Popat Vats
3 things we can all do to reopen education for our future

As soon as some states announced school reopening, there were WhatsApp forwards of an article that said ‘66,000 kids under 10 years got infected, 85 succumbed in Maharashtra’, and parents started getting worried about school reopening. But if you read the article you realize it is from December 2020 and as you scroll down you realize that the article is actually saying that children are not at risk.

Our schools and colleges are closed for almost 17 months. We are in the middle of the second academic year when learning is virtual for all age groups. There are children who started their educational journey virtually, have never set foot in a school! What are we doing about it?

“ Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long-range missiles…it only requires lowering the quality of education…the collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.”

Daniel Prelipcean

Covid task forces in many states are against reopening of schools even as UNICEF and WHO make a joint statement urging countries to reopen schools. Dr. Swaminathan, chief scientist at WHO said, “The impact on children’s mental, physical and cognitive wellbeing will last a long time. School openings must be prioritized with distancing, masking, avoiding indoor singing and gatherings, hand hygiene and vaccination of all adults.”

How should we prepare for reopening? How do we get parents on board? Well, if it takes a village to raise a child then it’s time for the village to work together. There are 3 things all stakeholders should do to ensure the safe and rapid reopening of education in our country.

What can the media do?

  1. Stop headlining incorrectly, just to get eyeballs! People tend to read only the headlines and not the article, so keep the headlines real.
  2. Start talking about vaccination and keep pushing about masking and social distancing as people are forgetting to do it. If your reporters are seen on screen not masked or maintaining social distance, then the public follows!
  3. Start doing more articles and coverage on the impact of school closure on all children. Child labour, child abuse, and child marriages have increased. Children are fatigued with virtual learning and women's employment has come down as women have had to leave the workforce to take care of children in the absence of daycare and schools.

What can educators do?

  1. Stop taking photographs without masks! When you take a group photo together without masks you are also not following social distancing. So many educators are posting such photos on social media, remember your students follow you… not only on social media!
  2. Get both your vaccinations and motivate parents to do the same.
  3. Push the narrative of the urgency of safe reopening.

What can schools do?

  1. Get all your staff vaccinated with their double dose. Don’t be complacent, invest in all the safety protocols given in the SOP released by the government.
  2. Think of the hidden safety threats like school buses, snack time when children will be without masks, restrooms where children end up using the same hand towel.
  3. Don’t hide facts. If any child falls sick or any family member contracts covid, don’t hide, immediately quarantine the bubble. Covid cases will happen but hiding them will only create a trust deficit.

What can parents do?

  1. Support the school in following all the safety protocols when dropping or picking up your child. The school has enough on its hands monitoring the children, don’t add to it by making them monitor you too!
  2. Create your own safety protocol when children come home from school, ensure they leave their school bag in a fixed place inside the door, sanitize their hands before entering, and go straight for a bath without touching things or people. Sanitize their bag, things, and clothes every day. It is the only way to keep safe.
  3. Ensure that your and their activities after school are also safe and you are not taking them to crowded places or calling too many people home. It is important to understand that if you think covid can come home from school then it can go to school from home too, so everyone needs to be vigilant and responsible.

What can teachers do?

  1. Get ready to face some behavioral challenges, they have had the ‘power’ of mute in their hands till now with virtual learning. Some children will be anxious, some will be depressed because of circumstances at home. There will be a mixed bag of emotions and behavior to deal with, take care of yourself first and ensure you don’t focus on the curriculum but focus on the child first.
  2. Teach children that being in a bubble does not mean shaking hands, or hugging or high fiving, or sharing food in the bubble, everyone has to understand and follow ‘CC’- Covid culture at all times. Remind them about it every day.
  3. Giving opportunities for ‘Air Gulp’ will be important. Children will be wearing masks and it is difficult to wear them for longer hours, teach them to take ‘air gulps’ in the outdoors or when away from people and in case they experience claustrophobia than to face the wall, stay away from others and remove their masks and take an ‘air gulp’ and put the mask back on again. 

Adults need to study this safety cone to understand how much supervision and autonomy do children require to follow the covid safety protocols. For very young children up to 6 years, supervise them at all times, safety is completely the responsibility of parents and teachers. For children between 6-18, the responsibility is shared, you can trust them with simple things but keep reminding. And for 18 and above, it is their responsibility, to ensure proper rules and repercussions are in place.

It’s time to learn from a small town in Italy called Reggio Emilia and keep children first, in our decisions. Reggio Emilia was completely destroyed after the second world war, the people of the town came together to decide what to start rebuilding first- their homes, their church, or schools. It was a unanimous decision to rebuild the schools first so that children can be safe and learning while the adults restart the town and its economy. It’s time to think children first and it will happen when all stakeholders: the parents, teachers, educators, schools, media, and every citizen becomes the community that thinks ‘children first’.

It’s time to reopen schools safely, it’s time to give children their right to education, it’s time to give children their connection to socio-emotional skills.

About the author:

Dr. Swati Popat Vats is the President, Podar Education Network, Early Childhood Association India and Association for Primary Education & Research. She is a widely read author and expert on parenting, early childhood, and learning methodologies.

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