With the Union health ministry issuing standard operating procedures for partial reopening of schools for students of Classes IX to XII, the Tamil Nadu government too is mulling over reopening of schools, at least for Classes X and XII after five days of quarterly vacation.
On Wednesday, School Education Minister KA Sengottaiyan said in a statement, few schools had started online classes since June and their quarterly holidays were supposed to be in late September.
He said in view of this, online classes and telecast of video lessons on television channels by the state government will not be conducted between September 21 to 25. He cited this as a quarterly break for students and that it would be applicable to private schools as well.
On the partial reopening of schools, the minister told reporters at Erode that it would be decided only after the COVID-19 scenario in the state changes.
However, school education department officials have conveyed to him that it was difficult to reach out to students in rural areas and make them attend online exams.
“It is not just about reaching out to them but also about their education. We may not know how it is going to be. Whatever exam schedule our state may follow, competitive exams by the Centre will follow its own protocol. If we delay reopening of schools, they may not consider our dates and go by the date given to the states,” said a teacher who is part of a committee to set up Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in schools.
Another headmaster in the committee said the minister was aware of the struggles of students in rural areas. “Though we provide video lessons through laptops and television channels, it would never replace classroom learning and a lot of students are having difficulty in accessing internet and television,” the headmaster said.
According to sources privy to the developments, the state government would reopen the schools at least for classes X and XII after the quarterly vacation. “After the quarterly holidays, there would be an official announcement and time would be given to schools to make arrangements,” sources said.
Speaking about the arrangements in schools, government teachers said the schools have been ready since July as paper correction works were on.
“Since we go to school daily, classrooms are cleaned and disinfected. Once the official date is announced, we will have to convey the new normal to the students,” said an official in the school education department.
According to the Centre’s SOP, students shall be allowed to visit schools on a voluntary basis and the ones that were used as quarantine centres must be disinfected completely before opening them for students.
Apart from asking the schools to maintain social distancing between the students, the ministry had also asked them to encourage online classes.
According to the proposed SOP in Tamil Nadu, students of different classes may start at different timing so that entry of students will be staggered and not crowded. If classrooms are not large enough to accommodate students by maintaining social distance, schools should make use of the auditorium or other spacious rooms in the school.
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Every student should be checked for his body temperature on a daily basis before he enters the schools and students from containment zones should be strictly not allowed, as per the proposed SOP in Tamil Nadu.
Even as the government is yet to announce the date of reopening, private schools in the state are almost ready for conducting classes. Tamil Nadu Private Schools Association president R Visalakshi said reopening of schools for higher classes would be a better decision as the students would be able to meet the teachers in person to clear their doubts and learn their lessons.
“The schools have not been functional since March and so it would be easy to make arrangements and disinfect the classrooms,” she said.
On the other hand, even if the state government does not allow reopening of schools, the ones following CBSE syllabus are planning to reopen their schools as recommended by the union government.
“We are asking suggestions from the parents of Class X and Class XII and if the majority of them are in favour of reopening, we are planning to open in the first week of October,” said a private CBSE school principal, who did not want to be named.