With several students and teachers in Karnataka contracting COVID-19 after attending the state government’s ambitious ‘Vidyagama’ programme, that aimed at imparting education at the doorstep, the initiative has been put on a temporary halt.
The decision comes at a time when the government was contemplating the reopening of schools in the state.
With most schools switching over to online classes in view of the pandemic, the Vidyagama programme, that involved holding classes for government school students in public places, acted as a reprieve for those who lacked technology support to attend the virtual classes.
Besides, the state government also went back on its earlier decision to not give the Dasara holidays. Soon after halting the Vidyagama initiative, it announced three weeks of Dasara holidays for schools from October 12 to 30.
“I have come to know through media about many teachers contracting COVID-19. Keeping in mind the health of teachers and students, I have directed officials to declare mid-term holiday for three weeks from October 12 to 30,” said Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa.
His announcement came after former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy lashed out at the government for earlier cancelling the Dasara holidays at a time when the teachers put up their best to teach the students by taking risk during the pandemic.
Soon after a report emerged that at least 30 students in Belagavi and about 124 in Mysuru and Chamarajanagar districts had contracted the virus since the launch of the programme in August, Primary Education Minister Suresh Kumar announced its suspension.
Kumar himself had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was hospitalised for treatment.
The pandemic has turned the tide in favour of government schools as more parents, hit by financial woes were making a shift from private schools.
Kumar had attributed the cause to the “success” of the scheme even as the private school managements had criticised the government for its failure in effectively implementing the COVID-19 protocols of social distancing and wearing masks.
Taking to Facebook, Kumar said the ‘Vidyagama’ program was implemented keeping in mind the welfare of students from economically backward families, but as many shared their apprehension about the initiative, he decided to temporarily halt it.
“The Principal Secretary of the Education Department has been directed to temporarily stop the Vidyagama program until an analysis is completed by the Department,” Kumar wrote in the Facebook post.
Within weeks of launching the scheme, MLC Basavaraj Horatti had warned the government that it was risking the lives of teachers and students and that it continued with the initiative for mere publicity. “This scheme is not helping even 10 per cent of students. It is being run just for publicity. Parents are also opposing this scheme,” Horatti had said.
Horatti, who served as state education minister two decades ago, in a press conference on October 10 in Hubballi said around 2,555 teachers in the state had contracted COVID and about 123 of them died. He also sought the government to present a report on how many students benefited from the scheme and demanded to drop it in the larger public interest.