Boarding schools safe should be reopened

Article Published in TOI Uttarakhand

With Lockdown 4.0 have been set into motion by the Government, the widely anticipated question on everyone’s mind is about reopening of educational institutions. The indecision about reopening of schools is both political and moral. It is in this dilemma that more than 32 crores students’ fate hangs in oblivion. Considering almost all sectors have opened up despite increasing cases, it is only inevitable, that learning also return back to normal.

Given their context- a closed and exclusive setting, size of the campus and advantage of small student body, my view is that boarding schools be permitted to open as they are probably most equipped to impart safe schooling during this time. There are several reasons for this. Boarding schools provide a space where physical distancing can be enforced, both in boarding houses and play areas. The risk from infection because of students having to travel every day is minimized. Routine life, access to fitness and co scholastic activities, teachers and counsellors could also provide the much-needed psychological support to deal with the challenges thrown up by lockdown. Besides, this would enable parents to go back to work without being worried about their children at home.

Having said this, reopening of boarding schools will still have semblance of risk but arguably, this would be much lesser than day schools. Schools must come up with clear and comprehensive policies with regard to getting students on campus, self-discipline and social distancing, boarding arrangements, daily schedule, meals timing, sports  and academic policies, support and teaching staff movements, Inter House and Inter School activities, visiting and outing rules, testing procedures and contingency plan  in case of an outbreak. In India, the Indian Public School Conference could work with the Government and take the lead in putting these policies in place.

Reopening of schools could also translate into supporting the local economy, bringing livelihood back on track for the stakeholders who are supported by boarding schools. In Uttarakhand, especially in Dehradun, Mussoorie and Nainital, there are around 200 boarding schools that contribute in sustaining hotels, restaurants, retail shops and tourism.

Boarding schools are about inculcating grit and determination, taking responsibility, character building, facing adversity and building trust. They have the potential like no other, in mitigating challenges thrown by COVID 19 in education sector and in providing the best possible environment for students physical, mental, emotional safety, in these times of uncertainty and anxiety.

(Rashid Sharfuddin is Headmaster of SelaQui International School.)

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