Right from the day lockdown started, the schools in India have been shut. And I am sure this must have happened in other countries too. Some countries tried to open up, and the typical case of a school opening up in the USA did result in local outbreaks.
In India, most states have decided to postpone the reopening of schools until the end of December 2020, until further orders from the government. While online learning has been a quick fix, our creative team designed an idea of providing nicely boxed and branded tool kits: teacher tool kits to the teachers, and the learner school kits to students of different age groups. The learning activities that are a part of the kit consist of interesting work books and all the material that the students would need to perform learning activities. We encourage a parent to accompany the child during these lessons so that there is a sense of partnership and collaboration that develops amongst key stakeholders. If there are lingering problems that a particular child learner may have during the sessions, they can be easily solved by the participating parent.
There are numerous pre-schools and KG schools that have emerged in the proximity colonies. They are usually neighbourhood learning centres. There are plenty of them, from branded to unbranded, who have shut shop. These places are available at convenient locations in the neighbourhood. Their benefits are that the public transport or school buses are not required. One of the parents can drop them, participate if they want, and collect them and take them home on completion.
There are many such neighbourhood facilities available that can be redesigned keeping in mind the next higher age group, but limiting the teachers and the students to ensure that social distancing and all the other SOPs are implemented. It is important that the teachers, the parents, and the children should not be infected. Since the numbers would be small, frequent RT-PCR tests can be organised for all the key stakeholders.
Our conventional education model is that of bringing children to large school campuses in the buses and, at the end of the day, delivering them safely to their respective homes.
Instead, the same schools can create clusters of neighbourhood learning centres where commute by buses or public transport is shunned — limited students, limited teachers, and modified facilities designed for slightly higher age groups: may be grades 1-3. Each good composite school will require multiple such locally accessible centres near their living areas, again with limited commute and health checks for all the students and teachers. Some lessons can still continue to be delivered by a central studio in the main school premises. Sanitisation and hygienic practices for each of the neighbouring learning centres are to be implemented, and be certified by local health authorities as ‘safe’. Many such small schools are shut now, and are available in many numbers in every area. They can be properly certified by the local school and health authorities.
A proper K-12 school can become a cluster of schools in different living areas, thus making safe education possible with minimal risks. We can call them ‘the big schools’ that have now been created with ‘clusters of schools’. In such a model, the teacher-parent partnership will be stronger. The student-teacher bonding will be higher and, more importantly, the peer group interactions will not only help children learn faster but also strengthen the ‘connect’ between themselves. They can still stay in touch with the teachers and fellow students from home, using the internet.
This model ensures a relatively higher safety and provides the real-world education experience with all precautions in place. If we do the economics, they may be less expensive than the regular large school complexes.
Given that we are now facing the second COVID spike, and the vaccinations are 6 -10 months away, it may be worth piloting this ‘cluster’ mode of smaller, safer learning environments, including labs, in our neighbourhoods.
I feel confident this model will work. We can try it out experimentally and scale it. The pre-schools and KG schools that are now shut can make use of this opportunity to tie up with us, the Excel Public School.
Given that the second spike in the COVID19 Pandemic is yet to come. We may remedy at least a part of the year using ‘school clusters’.