Older children first, staggered schedule: Centre works on back-to-school norms

OLDER children of Classes 9, 10, 11, and 12 are expected to be back in schools first as they are better able to comply with rules on masks and social distancing, The Indian Express has learned.

The HRD Ministry is working with the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) on devising basic guidelines for reopening of schools, whenever it is greenlighted by the Home Ministry.

According to ministry officials, students in Classes 1 to 5, in the 6 to 10 years age group , are unlikely to go back to classrooms for the next three months.

These guidelines are not meant to be prescriptive but will indicate what school life could look like in the near future.

However, even for senior students, reopening will be staggered. “All students of all senior classes will not be called together. They will arrive in batches over a few days so that the school administration has time to brief them on the new seating arrangement and new rules of school life,” said an officer on the condition of anonymity.

The seating arrangement in a classroom will have to follow social distancing, which means two students will ideally sit six feet apart. This means that at one time, the entire student strength of one class or section will not be able to attend class together. Each class will have to be divided into batches of about 15 to 20 students each, said officers familiar with the draft NCERT guidelines.

Each batch of a class would be called on alternate days. “Schools will follow a blended form of learning in which the batch that is not meant to go to school on one day will be given tasks to complete tasks at home,” said a second officer.

All students will have to mandatorily wear masks in class. Initially, school canteens will not function and pupils will be asked to bring their lunch. Children will be encouraged to eat their lunch in the classroom during recess.

Morning assembly will also be prohibited for the first few months. There will be hand sanitisation stations at different locations on school campus. Also, parents will not be allowed inside the school campus and will have to drop off children at the gate. There will be different entry and exit points for children entering and leaving the campus to ensure there is no crowding at one point.

Classrooms and frequently touched surfaces will have to be sanitised before children come in, once during the day and after they leave. “Since entry and exit of different batches will also be staggered, there will be enough time in between two batches for school authorities to clean classrooms and surfaces,” said an officer.

Countries across the world have adopted different apporaches to reopening schools. In Europe, where schools reopened in Denmark first on April 15, many countries started by calling their youngest students back. This decision was based on available scientific evidence that the COVID19 incidence among children is low compared to adults, but older children report more cases.

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