The stage is set for re-opening of schools for class 10 and 12 in Odisha from today. After the COVID-19 pandemic brought in the age of online classes it is now time for these students to return to their classrooms. The intent is to conduct 100 days of classroom teaching and prep the students before the Board exams which will commence in May. The board examinations result is the precondition for all India level competitive tests. The State Government has taken this judicious decision to ensure that the students have enough time to prepare for the upcoming critical examinations.

The government has issued SOPs for re-opening of schools across the state. The school administration is asked to follow these SOPs to the teeth. This recent call to re-open schools during the Coronavirus pandemic has put the management, teachers, students and parents and on a tight duty.

Team Ootkal spoke with various stakeholders to understand their preparedness, excitement and apprehension.

Poly Patnaik

Many administrations were not prepared to re-open schools but that was not the case with the Mothers Public School of Bhubaneswar. Ootkal spoke with Mrs. Poly Patnaik, founder of the school who threw light on the fact that the announcement to re-open schools was a blessing in disguise – “CBSE had announced the board exam dates. We have not conducted any practicals so far and we are not sure if the students have understood the chapters, if they have any doubts or whether they have completed their course. With so many questions in our mind, we were contemplating how to go about it. So, we were happy and relaxed when the announcement came in. Our Government does take decisions wisely keeping in mind the wellbeing of the public”.

Mrs. Patnaik broke another preconceived notion mentioning, “We are not doing classroom teaching as of now as online classes have been very effective for our students. We live in an urban area where network is not an issue and parents these days are also tech-savvy and well informed which together worked quite well, better than we had anticipated. Since it is about class 10 and 12 boards and it’s crucial for their career, we have planned to conduct mock examinations for the class 10 students and practicals for class 12 students.” 

On the other hand, as of October 2020, only half of India’s population had access to the internet. Economic disparity is also putting the students in a tough spot. Students coming from families with marginal income fail to leverage the fruits of the online educational system. 

Mamata Dash

While discussing this point with Mrs. Mamata Dash, a class 10 teacher from Government High School Rourkela, she shared that, “I completely favour this decision of the State Government. Only ten per cent of the students of government high schools were able to attend online classes. They are not economically capable of buying a smartphone. So, re-opening of schools will help them a great deal in catching up with the syllabus”. 

Team Ootkal asked a vital question to Mrs. Patnaik – How is the school ensuring compliance with SOPs and keeping the students and staff safe? To this, she replied with ease “We didn’t want the whole school to attend at a time as we don’t have the vaccine yet. She briefly explained, “Students will be coming section wise. The school has 4 staircases and we have identified groups of children who will be using one particular staircase. The idea is to forbid the grouping of students. They have not met their classmates for months so they might start mingling, hugging, sharing tiffin and we don’t want that to happen. They will come, give the test, greet their friends from a distance and leave”. 

She further elaborated “For practicals also we have called students section wise. One section has 40 students. So, per day, we will be calling 40 children divided into 4 laboratories at a given time. Students are required to leave as soon as their practicals are over. To ensure utmost safety, we will not be allowing sanitisers inside chemistry labs.”

Janhavi Patnaik

We also spoke to Janhavi Patnaik, a class 12 student from DPS Kalinga, who had a lot to say about how virtual education has shaped one of the most crucial years of her career. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the last year of my school life would be this way”, said Janhavi. “Virtual education is something very new to me. It had many pros like I was able to study in a very comfortable environment and it also left me with abundant time for self-study.”

However increased screen time has detrimental concerns, from computer vision syndrome, poor posture leading to neck and shoulder pain to ‘risk and reward-seeking pattern’, disturbed sleep and obesity. Janhavi concurred saying “The sudden leap of my screen time gave me headaches pretty frequently. It also made me very drowsy and lethargic.”

When asked if she was happy to go back to school, Janhavi couldn’t contain her excitement. “Just the thought that I’ll be able to study in school is very exciting. It’s been a year since I last sat in a classroom filled with students. This will also help me interact better with my teachers and of course my classmates.”

Mrs. Patnaik shared a pragmatic outlook adopted by the school, “We want to use the 100 days to the fullest. For the first two weeks, we will go slow and observe the trend and behavioural pattern of the children. Our school has opened up a window in the afternoon for doubt clearing. If students have any doubt, they can voluntarily come to school for doubt clearing sessions and any other assistance needed. We aim to do the best but at the same time we also have to see how we can take care of their’s as well as our health.”

Similarly, Mrs. Dash was ecstatic to go back to the class full of students instead of her laptop screen. However, she too expressed caution. “I am very excited to see my students inside the classroom after a gap of almost a year. I am also equally worried about their health. But we will make sure we follow all necessary measures to keep them safe while on campus,” she added.

Reopening of schools can no longer be put on the back burner as students’ career is at stake. Stakeholders involved are positive that this experiment will be successful with one another’s cooperation, adherence to govt. sops and exercising responsibility. While the pandemic rages on, it is critical that students who have major exams which might define their future, be given a chance to prepare with the resources of the school at their disposal.