THE CHILDREN OF THE PANDEMIC: AN ASSESSMENT OF WHETHER SCHOOLS SHOULD NOW OPEN?
In what came as astonishing to many, several European countries have decided to open schools once again even as the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. The need for reopening schools and putting children back into classrooms arose from the fact that access to education was scuttled for hundreds of thousands of students owing to a multitude of reasons- some do not have any access to internet, others do not have access to the technology through which they can access internet, i.e., smart phones or laptops. In some other cases, there is simply no place to sit and study; in several others, students live in an environment plagued with violence and schools are their only breathing spaces. Compelling as these reasons might be, the larger question of the safety of little children continues to haunt their parents and other kith and kin. Insofar as India is concerned, the Government of India or governments at the state level- none have permitted the complete reopening of schools. In the “Unlock 4 Guidelines” issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on August 29, 2020, some relaxation has been granted with effect from September 21, 2020. Whereas many may argue that keeping schools and colleges shut is the wisest thing to do, since the lives of these children are far more important than their studies, several others would say that scuttling access to education could be far riskier. What then is the best thing to do? Should students be made to go back to school or should they be told to stay at home? Are online classes really proving to be effective or are they simply a redundant luxury of the elite? Is there a way to reconcile the two different streams of argument, i.e. can a way be found for safety of students to be guaranteed and at the same time, their education is not compromised with? Clearly, a Pandora’s Box is thrown open before us. This research paper is an effort at finding answers to some of the aforesaid questions. The author will, through the paper, try to ascertain a definitive, or if not definitive, a convincing answer to reconcile the conflict as to whether schools must be reopened and students be sent back. The author also tries to explore if the said answers are uniform for countries and continents around the world or different answers befit different nations, given their diversity and varying economic development.
The author mainly relies on secondary sources of research; however, incidental primary references may be made.