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New pupils maintain social distancing during a welcome ceremony in Yokohama, Japan, on 6 April. (Photo: Getty Images)
New pupils maintain social distancing during a welcome ceremony in Yokohama, Japan, on 6 April. (Photo: Getty Images)

The new school gap year

With no covid-19 vaccine in sight, parents are looking to educate children at home, while reserving seats in school

Kids are not your testing kits," reads a comment on Change.org, in support of a petition titled “No schools until zero covid case in the state or until vaccines are out". The 1 June petition filed by a group called the Parents Association has got over 730,000 signatories from around the country.

“Opening of schools will be the worst decision by the government…. It’s like playing with fire," the petition states.

Earlier this week, Union human resource development minister Ramesh Pokhriyal hinted that schools might reopen after August. This has sent parents, who don’t want to risk sending their children into a social space without a vaccine for covid-19 in sight, into a tizzy. Several are considering some form of self-schooling (where parents decide the schedule and lesson plans based on school textbooks) or home schooling. “I am planning to give mainstream schooling a break for this academic year," says Delhi-based Shilpi A. Singh, a former communications professional who has two daughters, in classes 1 and III. Aditi Mukherji, a Kolkata-based water and climate researcher, has taken a similar decision for her twin girls, aged 5.

However, both plan to retain their children’s seats in school, paying the year’s fees. “What if we didn’t have our jobs? Similarly, the schools will close down if they don’t get the fee. These are unprecedented times and the non-teaching staff might not be able to retain their jobs if we don’t pay," says Mukherji.

Even when schools do reopen, they are not likely to operate to full capacity. One is likely to see a mix of virtual and physical schooling though two months of relentless online classes have put pressure on both parents and children. If a family has just one device, for instance, the timings for virtual classes for the children tend to clash with the work hours for adults.

But that’s not all. “For the first week, my kids were very enthusiastic about the classes. It was something new for them. But then they started missing the physical presence of being in a classroom," says Singh.

Her younger daughter hid under the table during the very first class, with the teacher haplessly calling out her name. “There was an exhaustive list of topics to cover and I realized I will have to pitch in as the teacher could do only so much," says Singh, who has quit her job to take care of her daughters’ learning needs.

Every parent is trying to find a solution that works for the family. Some, like Mukherji, are trying their own version of self-schooling. She has the books from school and is chalking out lesson plans for her daughters. Doubts are shared with other parents in the class WhatsApp group. “There is so much to learn beyond the formal structure," she says.

Others are taking the home schooling route. Sangeetha Shankar, an alternate educator who shuttles between Pune and the US, has been getting 10 queries every week from friends, neighbours and strangers looking to shift their children from mainstream to home schooling. “There are several factors for this change. Most parents don’t find it healthy for kids, especially in the primary grades, to sit in front of the screen for long hours. A majority of these parents were already frustrated by the mainstream schooling system and covid-19 was the final nail in the coffin," she says.

For parents like Singh, it doesn’t matter if the children miss a year’s school as long as they are safe. “They will study at their own pace. I too have started enjoying having them at home, loving their little queries and concerns," says Singh.

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