School teachers and staff should be designated as frontline workers and get vaccinated on a priority basis before the next academic year to avoid any disruptions in learning. This is one of the many recommendations made by the Lancet Covid-19 Commission’s India Task Force and published in the peer-reviewed medical journal –The Lancet.
The school support staff and school bus drivers should be given preference as well to receive vaccinations. And, the task force maintained that schools should open only after this teachers, staff and support staff cohort was vaccinated and all the COVID-19 safety norms and protocols were in place.
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Other recommendations included creating a backup staff pool in case the teaching and administration staff were infected and incapacitated to reduce any disruption in school activities. Secondly, they advised schools to involve voluntary teaching groups such as Teach for India and also engage retired professionals to maintain a proper student-teacher ratio.
The schools should strictly follow social distancing, wear face masks, sanitise schools and conduct staggered shifts in crowded municipal schools. Government SOPs should be scrupulously adhered to and the task force advocated maintaining clean and well-ventilated classrooms and buses. Outdoor classes and activities should be encouraged rather than indoor activities, with even windows of buses to be left open at all times. School buses must be sanitised after each trip and designated seating was suggested along with the mandatory use of face masks for children.
The Lancet Covid-19 Commission’s India Task Force also emphasised the need to assemble the best minds and resources to draw up solutions for the children to return to the classroom and learning after losing an entire year. An expert group must be created to examine the extent of the loss of learning and to draw up solutions to help children overcome the challenges of a lost year.
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Pertinently, the task force too highlighted the need to bridge the “digital divide” between children and this did not just mean improving access to Internet connectivity and devices to the poorest children in the system. Tackle nutritional deficiencies in children, formulate mechanisms to track progress of schools from a safety and learning perspective; and set up state-level committees to provide financial rescue packages to private schools were other recommendations made by the task force.
The task force also advised schools to open along with other sectors like offices, transportation, restaurants and shops. Many countries banned large gatherings to be able to allow key facilities like schools to open. But when countries failed to do this there was a spike in coronavirus cases with the opening of the schools reopened.