Bhubaneswar: Almost three months after schools in Odisha were closed due to the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, offline classes of X and XII students will resume from July 26.
However, the announcement came with a few riders. Only teachers who have been fully vaccinated can take classes and attendance is at every student’s discretion. SOPs issued by the government states that online/distance learning should be encouraged as a preferred mode of teaching. Students should be permitted to attend online classes and not coerced to come to school. School transportation should also be discouraged, to reduce risk.
These conditions have cast a shadow on the reopening of schools as parents have expressed concern over the safety of their wards in view of a possible third wave.
Besides, no data is available with the departments concerned about vaccination of teachers and other school staff.
While expressing apprehensions over preparedness of the government, the experts and stakeholders welcomed the decision as the COVID-19 pandemic has badly hit studies of students with 60 per cent of them unable to attend online classes due to poor internet connectivity.
According to estimates by various teachers’ bodies, around 40 per cent of teachers have been fully vaccinated.
“There are around 80,000 secondary and higher secondary teachers of whom 37,000 have been hired on contract and are below the age of 45 years. So, we can say around 50-60 per cent of the teachers have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. The government should prioritise vaccination of teachers by reducing the second-dose gap as it did in the case of students and sportspersons travelling abroad,” said Odisha Secondary School Teachers Association general secretary Prakash Mohanty.
He said that several states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi have vaccinated teachers on priority.
“The teachers should be given the status of COVID warriors since they have been engaged in the distribution of uniform, books and MDM and assessment and surveys,” he said.
On the government’s decision to introduce Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system for evaluation of students’ performance in Class IX and X from this academic session, Mohanty said that a half-yearly exam should also be conducted, besides the four formative (short) and two summative assessments before the final exam in March.
Educationist Prof Pritish Acharya said that other classes should also be resumed in due course of time after assessing the COVID situation in the state. “Primary school students have been the worst sufferers as they are yet to be introduced to formal schooling. Online education is not an alternative to schooling. We cannot expect the little children to understand lessons online and check doubts while still in their formative years,” he said.
Balancing life and livelihood is important and so also quality education to ensure a better future for the children, he felt.
According to reports, the attendance in YouTube classes introduced by Odisha School Education Programme Authority (OSEPA) for Class I to VIII dropped by 38 per cent in less than a month of its launch. The average number of views was 4.35 lakh on June 23 and it fell to 3.2 lakh on July 16.
The educationist, however, warned against any complacency after the reopening of schools. “The teachers who are fully vaccinated should take care to use a mask while taking classes and not turn into superspreaders,” he added.
Chairman of Odisha Parents’ Federation Basudev Bhatt said that the government should ensure the safety of teachers and students. “Remote learning has affected studies. Therefore, classroom teaching should be encouraged whenever there is an improvement in the situation,” he said.
The government should also supply sanitisers and masks to all schools, he added.
Odisha has been witnessing a progressive decline in new cases and the test positivity rate has remained below 3 per cent for the last few days. Khurda and Cuttack districts have been reporting the bulk of new infections and continue to be in red zone with 4498 and 2842 active cases, respectively. Cuttack has the highest TPR of 7 per cent, according to the state dashboard.