Let Bengaluru kids go to school
Let Bengaluru kids go to school
It's been 571 days since pre-school shut down in-person classes. Children have changed one full grade in that time. This can have disastrous short and long term effects for children, and for our society. It is time to open pre-schools, and there are several reasons to do so.
School closures are associated with learning loss: Many pre-school children have not started school because parents see no point in bringing 3-year olds to online classes, while a very large number of children do not even have access to online devices. These children are likely to struggle with basic foundational literacy when they come back to school. The recent ASER report (for Karnataka) and research by Azim Premji University report that children have lost major language and computational skills as a result of school closures. There is also substantial global evidence of the impact of prolonged school closures; and these effects last for years on end.
School closures cause behavioural issues and stress in children: Additionally, parents are reporting behavioural issues and stress in their children. Global evidence shows the increases in anxiety, depression, and self-harm among school-aged children since the start of the pandemic and Indian surveys indicate children are not fully ok.
Children need to socialise with each other: For pre-school children especially, offline foundational learning is a critical building block for future skills and well-being. TOI reported on the same here “Parents want schools to reopen for younger kids in Karnataka” where parents say they have noticed their children speaking like them.
Social skills are learned as much as academic skills are - 4-6 years is considered a critical age for social development of children. This is the age when little children move out from parallel play to social play and for that they need peers to learn daily from. How to negotiate differences? How to wait for one's turn? How to understand and empathise with others? Schools are wonderful spaces for these capacities to be built in a safe and steady manner.
And schools worldwide, and in Indian cities are opening: There is a body of evidence in support of opening schools while ensuring public safety and health through a defined operating procedure for closures. Evidence since the start of the pandemic shows that COVID-19 does not pose a high risk to children, and that schools are not drivers of transmission within the surrounding community. Even the ICMR has stated that schools can re-open, as has the WHO.
Schools across the world have opened, and Indian states too are opening schools (Delhi, Mumbai, Goa).
As parents we request the state to include us as key stakeholders and initiate clear and two-way communication. What are the conditions under which pre-schools upwards will open? Will this be linked to locality level case positivity rates? Will this be linked to the vaccination status of school staff and parents in any school community? Why are schools still closed when pubs and theatres are open? Many children are meeting anyway, how will re-opening schools make matters worse?
Little children need to run around, be free, meet their friends and have access to regular, structured learning in order to grow and develop into the citizens we hope they will be tomorrow. This, especially when a large body of evidence is suggesting that children below 10 are much less vulnerable to severe disease. Karthik Murlidharan - a renowned Indian education scholar - in fact argues that pre-schools and primary schools must be the FIRST to open (versus last).
This is not to say older children should stay at home. Adolescents need schools as much as young children. As a community, is it not time to figure out how in-person education can be provided to all children - and decide clear protocols for closures and RE-OPENINGS as we slowly navigate our way out of the pandemic.