Covid-19 Impact: Top School Principals Discuss The Reopening Of Schools In India

TN Govt says schools will reopen in Jan, 2021, almost echoing what top school principals discussed in our webinar. Read on for some great viewpoints shared in an enlightening panel discussion.

By Team ParentCircle  • 13 min read

Covid-19 Impact: Top School Principals Discuss The Reopening Of Schools In India

With Coronavirus cases surging in India, ParentCircle, India’s most-trusted parenting platform, organised a panel discussion titled Covid-19 – Impact of schooling, featuring the finest educationists from three of India’s worst-hit Covid cities, Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai. The discussion featured the following esteemed personalities:

  • Dr. Sheela Rajendra: Dean and Director, PSBB (Padma Seshadri Bal Bhavan), Chennai
  • Alka Kapur: Principal, Modern Public School, New Delhi
  • Fatema Agarkar: Educationist and Founder of ACE
  • Nalina Ramalakshmi: Managing Director, ParentCircle
  • Simmi Kalsi: Senior Teaching Professional, D.A.V Public School, Thane, Mumbai
  • Dr N K Charles: Executive Member, All India ICSE Schools Association

When will schools re-open?

During the discussion that lasted over two hours, the panelists went deep into several issues concerning parents right now - reopening of the schools and commencement of the new academic year. The panel strongly felt the conditions were nowhere near right for the reopening of schools and it could take a long time before any hope of reopening. They unanimously brushed aside any thought of reopening, at least, till the end of September/October.

Dr. Sheela Rajendra, Dean and Director, PSBB, Chennai said, “I think it will be somewhere between 50 and 20 percent (chance of reopening by October) and that too not for the whole school for sure. If it comes to safety vis a vis the physical schooling, I think safety will take priority even if it means not having school till December, January, or the whole academic year. So be it.”
Alka Kapur, Principal, Modern Public School, Delhi said, “All stakeholders are averse to opening the schools till the curve flattens or till there is a vaccine. The government will have to come out with a uniform policy with specific guidelines, SOPs and safety protocols of health and hygiene before schools reopen. These norms will have to be followed by every school.”

Monsoon woes:

Matters are only likely to get worse during the monsoons, which are on pace to last till mid-October, going by the trends in recent years. 

Simmi Kalsi, Senior Teaching Professional, DAV, Mumbai, said, “Monsoons are a big thing in a city like Mumbai. We are often affected by torrential rains. We need to keep that in mind as well. We all need to wait and see how it all shapes out very cautiously. Now, it is only about going with the drift and staying afloat.”

Challenges of physical distancing

With masks and physical distancing cited as the key elements for reopening, the challenges are only likely to mount for school managements. PSBB, one of the most sought-after schools in Chennai, is already feeling the heat.

Sheela opines, “It’s going to be very difficult for children to maintain physical distancing. Even bringing back 10 per cent of the children means over 300 kids for each school. There are many questions right now. What will be the plan for entries and exits? Do we give three hours’ time for that one class to come in by which time the first child who came in will be ready to go back home and more?”

The situation will be even more difficult for preschoolers, which is why many preschools are struggling to stay afloat.

Fatema Agarkar, Founder of Agarkar Centre of Excellence and an award-winning early educator, said, “Maharashtra government has created some sort of SOP for older children to come in when schools reopen, but for children under the age of 10, we do not anticipate them coming back any time sooner than December. It is very difficult to assume social distancing responsibility for the little children who just want to come and hug. “

Emotional challenges

Schools also need to consider the emotional strain children have been subject to over the last few months. It is not going to be a straightforward reopening exercise. 

Sheela adds, “The first few weeks after reopening cannot be subject-based, just cannot be. We should allow the children and the teachers to just discuss and talk. Give them that free talking time.”

The panel also expects parents to readjust their expectations for the year. Doing so will help the academicians as well as students ward off unwanted pressure. 

Nalina Ramalakshmi, Managing Director, ParentCircle, said, “At the moment, the only certainty is uncertainty. Parents should be clear on what to expect from their children this academic year. Should they be worried about grades or should they focus on what children are learning? It’s about talking to your child about the importance of learning and not about when or how schools will reopen or what will be their grades.”

Online classes a non-starter?

With most schools resorting to online classes, there is a growing debate whether this is a hurried stop-gap arrangement. Early pointers suggest challenges are outpacing the benefits. Inclusivity remains the key deterrent when it comes to online classes. While school managements are keen to get moving with online classes to keep pace with the demands of the syllabus, the fact that hardly 30 per cent of children have access to online learning only adds to the woes of the current situation.

Alka said, “Close to 25 crore children are sitting at home and online classes are available to only 30-35 per cent of these children.” While online classes remain a challenge, there is a growing voice for flipped classroom model given the current situation. 
Nalina adds, “I am just wondering whether we should explore the flipped classroom model for the higher classes right now. Is it possible to give content to the children so that they can learn in their own time and then just hold sessions where they meet in smaller groups with their teacher around to guide and clarify their doubts?”

Are teachers tech-savvy?

While children have been the focus of the online debate, the bigger question is are teachers adapting to online classes? Given that most of India is comfortable with the traditional model of education, how are teachers embracing technology?

Simmi Kalsi said, “Educators are having no magic wand in their hand. They are also doing it hands on now. We are learning the ropes as we are connecting with the children. It’s not easy, sitting across a virtual classroom.”
Covid-19 Impact: Top School Principals Discuss The Reopening Of Schools In India

Fee controversy

The panel faced a barrage of questions related to fee collection. Parents vehemently questioned whether schools are justified in collecting complete fees for online programmes. But the schools feel justified and the reason they cite is teachers’ salaries. As claimed by the panel, close to 80 per cent of the fees go towards teacher salaries.

Sheela said, “Fees collected by most schools (at least that’s the case with our school) go towards payment of teacher salaries. The number is somewhere between 80 and 90 per cent. I think logically parents should accept that and co-operate with schools because most of that is going towards the salaries of our teachers.”

Assessment challenges

A new challenge that crept up during the discussion was that of assessments during online classes. How can schools keep a check on potential malpractices and ensure free and fair assessments?

The panel unanimously voted for the objective assessment model. Simmi said, “Assessments will be objective. We will not go in for very subjective or detailed assessments like we used to have in schools, especially senior schools. We are working out ways to ensure free and fair assessment for all students.”

Grades moratorium?

Should the boards consider a grades moratorium this year? 

Dr NK Charles, Executive Member, All India ICSE Schools Association, said, “In my own perspective, grades should not be discussed this year. This is the time we talk about survival. We need to make our children survive. We need to make our children mentally, spiritually and emotionally fit.”

Is India ready for inclusive learning?

The panel strongly voted for upgrading infrastructure and embracing inclusive learning, not just as an interim measure, but a full-fledged model going forward.

Alka strongly votes for a futuristic approach towards blended learning. “When schools do reopen, they will not be reopening with full strength for sure. Children with lower immunity may not come to school, so we cannot allow them to miss classes. We will need to upgrade our infrastructure in a way that while the teacher is teaching in the class, the session also reaches the children who are at home.

Creating a robust home learning environment

With so much uncertainty around us, the panelists recognised the need for embracing home learning initiatives. The ongoing pandemic has reiterated that education is not just about school, but about home too. Parents have a big role to play.

Nalina said, “There are many little ways in which you can engage with your children at home. Parents should encourage the learning and exploration process. For example, if you are cooking something in the kitchen, get your child involved and encourage questions. Use this opportunity to upgrade several skills at home. A home learning programme is a must.”

At the end of the day, this ongoing pandemic may have hurt reopening of schools, but it has certainly brought back families together. 

Nalina adds, “It’s important to start looking at the positive side of what’s been happening during this crisis. When you talk to a lot of parents, you realise they are spending time with their families like never. Children are learning many life skills at home.” Alka adds, “A lot can be learnt from the experiences of the parents or the grandparents and here comes the beauty of a family. So, I think it is all coming so beautifully by making the best out of the worst situation.”

Exclusive: watch the panel discussion titled Covid-19 – Impact On Schooling

About ParentCircle: 

We are India’s #1 parenting platform Started in 2011 as a parenting magazine, today, ParentCircle has emerged as a strong print and digital force in India. Over the last 9 years, at ParentCircle, we have been pursuing a single-minded mission – to build confidence in parents to raise happy, healthy, confident, compassionate children. To be a confident parent, we believe a strong parent-child connection is the key, which in turn makes children feel loved, understood, safe and secure.

Today, our magazines enjoy readership of nearly 1.5 lakh. Our digital platform is clocking a viewership rate of 15 million per year. With global parenting experts and bestselling authors on board, ParentCircle is fast emerging as the one-stop solution for parent engagement programs for families, corporate houses, and educational institutions, among others. We received global recognition for the maiden edition of #GadgetFreeHour in November 2019. 

About the author:

Written by Team ParentCircle on 26 June 2020.

Join our Circles to share, discuss and learn from fellow parents and experts!

Looking for expert tips and interesting articles on parenting? Subscribe now to our magazine. Connect with us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube