NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Amid a rapid surge in Covid-19 infections across the country, the government has decided to close down schools and colleges till Feb 6, 2022 while directing the university authorities to take their own decisions about closures, which a number of them already did.
According to the health minister, the decision was taken considering the spike in Covid-19 infections in schools and upon the directives of the prime minister. While we understand the concerns about the safety of students, we wonder whether this was based on a scientific reading of the situation and how it will bring any positive result while all the offices, factories, shopping malls and other public spaces remain open during this time.
Although the government has given a five-point directive to prevent the spread of the virus-including prohibition on gathering of over 100 people in any political, social or religious programmes; producing Covid-19 vaccine certificates to participate in any programmes, attend government and public offices, and to commute by public transports; wearing masks and maintaining health rules at public places, etc.-enforcing them will be a big challenge, if past experience is any indication.
Against this backdrop, we wonder how the restrictions put on educational institutions will help curb the infection rates. Having remained shut for about 18 months from March 2020 till Aug 2021, educational institutions started in-person classes only last September.
While a 15-day closure for schools should not be a big problem, if the closure extends beyond that, its effects on the school and college students, particularly those in the rural areas, will be immense. One may recall that during the past two years, the school drop-out rate and child labour increased, and more female students became victims of child marriage.
Many of them could not continue their education due to the digital divide. Therefore, any restrictions put on educational institutions must be well-thought-out.
What the government can do instead is bring all the students of schools, colleges and universities under its vaccination coverage. Since we reportedly have a good stock of vaccines, the government should expedite its campaigns to inoculate all students as soon as possible, with an aim to keep the educational institutions open at all costs. Another way to curb the infections could be to put restrictions on the areas that are severely infected.
As far as we know, the authorities have already developed a zoning system-under which areas are divided into red, yellow and green zones, based on the number of infections. If this system can be implemented properly, with the help of local administrations and law enforcement agencies, experts believe we will be able to curb the spread of the virus.
We hope the government will consider these suggestions before putting further restrictions on the educational institutions.
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