Unlock 4: Schools to stay shut; govt readies for NEET, JEE

Schools, colleges, educational and coaching institutions will remain closed for students till September 30, with a few relaxations for students of Classes 9 to 12

The Centre said states and Union Territories may allow up to 50 percent of teaching and non-teaching staff to be called to the schools at a time for online teaching or tele-counselling and related work from September 21. Representational image: iStock

With online classes becoming the new normal in the Indian education system amid the fourth stage of a phased exit from the COVID-induced lockdown, the Centre released new guidelines on Saturday (August 29) for educational institutions under ‘Unlock 4.’

Schools, colleges, educational and coaching institutions will remain closed for students till September 30, with a few relaxations for students of Classes 9 to 12.

Students of Classes 9 to 12 may be permitted to visit their schools in areas outside the containment zones only on a voluntary basis for taking guidance from their teachers. This will be subject to the written consent of their parents or guardians, according to the guidelines.

The Centre said states and Union Territories may allow up to 50 percent of teaching and non-teaching staff to be called to the schools at a time for online teaching or tele-counselling and related work from September 21.

“States and UTs may permit upto 50% of teaching and non-teaching staff to be called to the schools at a time for online teaching/ tele-counselling related work in areas outside containment zones only with effect from 21st September 2020 for which the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) will be issued by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,” the guidelines read.

Skill or entrepreneurship training will also be allowed in National Skill Training Institutes, Industrial Training Institutes (ITI), short-term training centres registered with National Skill Development Corporation/State Skill Development Missions/other ministries of Government of India/the respective state.

National Institute for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development (NIESBUD), Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE) and their training providers will also be permitted to run from September 21 for which the MoHFW will issue a SOP as well.

Moreover, Higher Education Institutions only for research scholars (Ph.D.) and post-graduate students of technical and professional programmes requiring laboratory or experimental works will also be allowed to operate by the department of higher education in consultation with MHA. However, this will only be based on assessment of the COVID-19 situation in states and UTs.

Online/distance learning will continue to be permitted and shall be encouraged, the government said.

The Centre’s directions encouraging online classes comes amid numerous reports of students with limited means or from less-affluent backgrounds being unable to attend online classes due to lack of access to technology.

This development also comes in the middle of a debate by parents and experts that prolonged exposure to PC monitors and phone screens for classes were neither healthy nor was it conducive to an appropriate learning experience, due to lack of physical presence.

Teachers who have limited experience with technology also happens to be another issue with online classes.

On the other hand, students, student unions, and various political parties are currently protesting the decision to conduct NEET and JEE exams in September, claiming the Centre was putting the lives of lakhs of students at risk by holding exams amid a virus pandemic.

The Congress, TMC, JMM and Shiv Sena said non-NDA leaders had moved the Supreme Court seeking postponement of NEET and JEE keeping in mind the health and safety of students amid rising COVID-19 cases.

At the same time, a few state governments have been making preparations to conduct the exams in a smooth manner, including permitting inter-district transport, arrangement of transport for students, and reopening lodges and hotels for stay.

The National Testing Agency (NTA) is scheduled to conduct the NEET on September 13 and JEE-Main between September 1 and 6.

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