With declining number of COVID cases its time to Reopen Schools
- India continues to record over 2,80,000 cases every day, which on its own is an uncomfortable statistic.
- These are not too far from that observed during the second wave and it is understandable why State administrators continue to impose lockdowns.
- However, numbers are meaningless without context and the data from States show that what was most feared about Omicron — an upsurge of hospitalisations and indiscriminate mortality — has not come to pass.
- The States that are in the throes of the wave now report, on average, that more than 95% of their available beds are unoccupied.
- However, schools continue to be shut in most places and administrators are reluctant to open them because most children are unvaccinated.
Evidences favouring reopening of school
- Serology surveys by the ICMR and independent experts have found that greater than 70% of children displayed COVID-19 antibodies — which is no different from adults.
- Other lines of research also establish that while children are likely to contract the infection and be carriers, they are less likely to fall severely ill.
- Placing this in context with the disruption that has taken place in schools, the years of quality teaching time that have been lost and, the entrenching of inequality among well-off children and those who are dependent on schools not only for learning but also a nutritious meal, it is clear that schools, in good conscience, cannot be allowed to remain shut.
Effect of Covid on Education
- According to UNICEF, the Covid-19 pandemic has battered education systems around the world, affecting close to 90 per cent of the world's student population.
- In India, over 1.5 million schools closed down due to the pandemic, affecting 286 million children from pre-primary to secondary levels.
- This adds to the 6 million girls and boys who were already out of school prior to Covid-19.
- This disruption in education has severe economic implications too.
- A World Bank report, 'Beaten or Broken: Informality and Covid-19 in South Asia', has quantified the impact of school closures in monetary terms-India is estimated to lose $440 billion (Rs 32.3 lakh crore) in possible future earnings.
- While the Covid-19 pandemic has made online education the buzzword, a recent report by the global education network Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) says that the Indian internet infrastructure is still far from ready to support the shift.
- Only 24 per cent households have access to the internet, according to a 2019 government survey.
- In rural India, the numbers are far lower, with only 4 per cent households having access.
- A 2018 NITI Aayog report revealed that 55,000 villages in India did not have mobile network coverage.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has not ended but societies are better prepared and aware of the reasonable measures that can be undertaken to save lives.
- Lockdowns are effective as a temporary measure and give time to stock up, but they come with huge costs and are not sustainable over the longer term.
- Thus, States should prioritise expanding vaccine coverage, insist on masks when children are in close confines, undertake periodic testing to gauge transmission and monitor hospitalisation trends while fully reopening schools.
- Experience from other countries such as the U.K. and the U.S. suggests that the reopening of schools hardly impacted transmission trends.
- India must incorporate these lessons.