Schools in Bengal are likely to reopen their campuses for pupils in classes IX to XII from February 12, state education minister Partha Chatterjee said on Tuesday. A decision on junior classes will be taken later. The government is likely to issue a detailed school reopening SOP on Wednesday.
The minister has also scheduled a meeting with vice-chancellors of various universities on Wednesday to decide when higher education campuses would open.
Tuesday’s announcement would be a relief to pupils, especially the several lakh who are set to take this year’s Class X and XII board exams. Bengal is the only state where schools haven’t yet reopened, in some form or the other, since the abrupt shutdown last March, at the start of the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
The education minister reminded that the government wanted “strict adherence to all health protocols.” Chatterjee indicated that the government was in favour of resumption of regular classes for classes IX to XII, and not just laboratories for practicals. “Students can come in batches,” he said.
Reacting to queries on why educational institutions in Bengal were opening so late, the minister said: “It is a question of children’s health and safety. That is paramount for us. We believe the announcement, 10 days in advance, will allow schools to take mandatory health measures and put in place a system,” adding he did not wish to comment on the Covid situation elsewhere.
Bengal had considered opening schools after Kali Puja but had deferred the decision, apprehending a possible post-festivity Covid spike. At present, cases in the state are at a seven-month low.
School principals welcomed the government’s decision and said they were already complying with the SOPs that the Centre had issued on September 30 and would add other protocols that the state issues.
Fr Rodney Borneo, principal of Loyola High School, felt it was imperative for students to return to the classroom. “Board examinees and students who are preparing for the board examinations will find it immensely helpful to resume on-campus classes,” he said.
For nearly a year now, schools have been conducting online classes. Once schools reopen, Fr Borneo felt schools would reclaim their rightful place in the lives of students. “Schools had become centres for producing and transmitting information. From Febraury 12, the soul will return to schools,” he said.
Richard Gasper, the principal of St Augustine’s Day School, sounded relieved that science students preparing for board exams would be able to attend practicals. “Online examinations are not a viable solution. Once offline exams are held, we will know how much the students have been able to grasp online teaching,” he said, adding that 15-20 students would be called in to attend each class at a time.
Birla High School has prepared a short video to guardians to showcase the school’s preparedness and inspire confidence to send students to campus, said principal Loveleen Saigal.
Heritage School principal Seema Sapru was confident that students would be delighted to return to campus. “We have sent the safety protocol to guardians. We have drafted our own set of rules by taking pointers from both central SOPs and guidelines suggested by CISCE. It will offer foolproof protection to students,” she said.
Some schools are looking towards to holding annual pen-and-paper examinations for students. “From the perspective of CBSE examinations starting May 4, institutions should reopen for board candidates who need to attend practical classes, doubt-clearing sessions and for hands-on experience. We will begin classes in small batches, which will be a dry run for a full house later in March,” said Apala Dutta, principal, Birla Bharati School.
West Bengal Government School Teachers’ Association general secretary Saugata Basu welcomed the decision.