Banners, balloons and posters exhorting caution greeted Mumbai students as they set foot in their classrooms after a gap of nearly 19 months following a state government notification permitting students of classes 8 to 12 to return starting October 4.
On September 29 the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) permitted city schools to reopen for the first time since they were closed mid-March to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Day 1, however, saw limited attendance in schools across all boards even as schools across the city greeted students with ‘Welcome Back’ posters, balloons and posters exhorting them to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour.
“Only 25% students from classes 9 and 10 batches came to school today and they were thrilled, as were we. Teachers as well as other non-teaching staff members have been waiting to hear the buzz of students in the school corridors and finally, online interactions were once again replaced with physical interactions in a classroom,” said Rupa Roy, principal of Balmohan Vidyamandir, Dadar.
At Pant Nagar School No. 3 in Ghatkopar, a “Welcome Back” banner greeted students at the gate and balloons decorated the corridors of the school. However, out of 133 students enrolled in class 8, only 55 students had submitted consent letters from parents — a condition put forward by the BMC for all city schools — to attend class. Only 10 attended school on Monday.
Over 20 municipal schools in Mumbai did not resume classes on Monday, as the vaccination or quarantine centres on their premises could not be moved, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials said.
As per a BMC circular issued last week announcing the reopening schools for classes 8 to 12, parents’ consent was mandatory for students to attend school; attendance was not compulsory; lunch breaks were not permitted and schools could only conduct classes for up to four hours. School education minister Varsha Gaikwad announced last week that after a 19-month break, physical lessons for classes 5 to 12 schools in rural parts of the state and classes 8 to 12 in urban areas would resume from Monday. The plan is to allow other classes to return to school in a phased manner, she said.
Schools have followed an online mode of teaching for the past two academic sessions, even the Class 10 and 12 boards were scrapped this year due to rising Covid-19 cases following which students were assessed on the basis of their performance in the previous as well as current academic years.
Many schools have chosen to retain both online and offline teaching modes, for the time being. Others chose to stagger the classes of students at different hours. At Balmohan Vidyamandir, two teachers were deputed to conduct the same lecture — one for those attending physical classes and another for those attending school online.
“Merging the two seems difficult for the time being and we would like to wait until we are more comfortable with physical classes,” Roy said. At Pant Nagar school No. 3, which offers English, Hindi, Marathi, and Urdu medium for classes 9 and 10, the English medium school was open in the morning, in two batches from 8 am to 10 am, and 11 am to 1 pm, while the Marathi medium classes were held in two batches in the afternoon. Hindi medium classes were also held in the morning. “We cannot force parents to send their children to school. However, we have been interacting with all parents to create awareness about the safety measures we are taking up at school,” said Suman Singh, principal of Pant Nagar school.
Some junior colleges also remained shut on Monday.
“The government order has been very clear that classes can’t start without consent of parents. We still haven’t collected the consent forms and therefore, deferred the reopening day by a couple of days,” said Hemlata Bagla, principal of K C College, Churchgate.
Some non-state board schools are also busy with end-of-semester exams at present, and had no choice but to defer physical reopening of schools by a week or more. “Our schedule was set much in advance so we didn’t want to disturb the same due to the last minute decision of the state government. Once the online exams are over, we have decided to continue regular lectures online from 7am to 10am for all batches, and then invite interested students from batches 8, 9 and 10 to attend two hours of physical school for problem solving as well as practical sessions,” said Rohan Bhat, chairman, Children’s Academy group of schools.
He added that if this schedule works well, post Diwali vacation, the school might reverse the system and conduct only physical classes for students from older batches while the problem-solving sessions will go online.
The state’s decision to open schools has seen a bit of back and forth in the past owing to the conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic. The state had asked schools to work towards re-opening physical classes in a phased manner on August 17 but had to roll back the decision following concerns put forward by the state task force, as well as of parents, students and school management boards over the potential spread of Sars-CoV-2. Similarly, the school education department announced the re-opening of schools for classes 9 to 12 in a phased manner last November.
In January 2021, another circular directed students from classes 5 to 8 to be brought back to school in groups. Both these circulars, however, were revoked once Covid cases started rising again starting February and the state government called for another complete lockdown starting mid-April this year.
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