Beyond social distancing norms on the playground and sanitising stations in every classroom, schools are turning to tech, science, and Nature to keep COVID-19 at bay
A touchless temperature check for every student passing through the gate, a safety precaution protocol to include personal hygiene, a face recognition terminal that raises an alarm when someone’s mask falls. Schools across the country are slowly opening up for kids and teens to come back after 10 months, to a space where frequent contact used to be the norm. Today, the jostling of children in corridors may not be possible, but staff members are looking forward to the noise and the social setting a school is meant to be. “It’s heart warming to have the children back in campus,” says Rahat Rashed, vice principal of Meridian School in Hyderabad. She admits there are going to be structural changes though. Here’s what to expect when you enter a school today.
The SOPs issued by the Education Ministry stipulate a physical distancing of at least six feet, disinfecting campuses at regular intervals, and frequent hand washing with soap.
“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” says Jacob Thomas, president of Good Shepherd International School in Ooty. The campus has been split into safe zone and restricted zone. “We adopted a conservative approach. Students undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine after which they are tested for the virus before attending classes. To adapt to the challenges, a COVID Task Force was in place as early as last October. We started with educating ourselves, right from support staff and admin staff on preventive measures, sanitation, and social distancing. We held virtual sessions with parents to clear their doubts about sending their children back to school.” The campus also has a dedicated quarantine facility in case if any student or staff member needs to be quarantined and monitored.
At Rajagiri Public School in Ernakulam, a few extra classrooms with sensor platforms and wifi are used, for classes in small groups. “We have taken help of tech, especially gadgets for sanitation,” says Fr Verghese Kachappilly, principal.
To diminish anxieties around the virus, schools are going the extra mile to ensure safety. “We ensure that students using school transport are spaced as recommended and that when students are in class they are seated with the recommended distance between desks,” says Richard Hillebrand, director of academics and principal of Trivandrum International School. Like many other institutions, Meridian School has restructured the timetable from nursery to class XII to ensure staggered timings for children.
“The learning environments in the school are filled with colourful, pictorial depictions and slogans that sensitise students on hygiene and cleanliness practices such as washing hands frequently and safer social distancing measures with relevant identification markings,” says Manimekalai Mohan, founder & managing trustee, SSVM Institutions in Coimbatore.
Lawrence School in Lovedale, Ooty that functions out of a sprawling 750-acre green campus, has turned towards the ‘bio-bubble’ concept. “We have eight bio-bubbles of class X students where they stay isolated to minimise the risk of COVID-19 infection. At laboratory and canteen, we have a shift system to avoid crowding,” says K Prabhakar, principal.
- Students of Shiv Nadar School in Delhi have developed SAFE, a self-sanitising bench with UV sterilising light that can reduce the risk of transmitting infections like viral conjunctivitis, influenza and hepatitis A, besides COVID-19. The bench comes with ultrasonic sensors that automatically switch on once the user gets off, sanitising the bench through the UV light.
- Students of The Western Ghats International School are making a video titled Thank You Corona which they will upload on YouTube shortly. Says Sashi Kumaar, chairman of the school, “The pandemic helped us learn values including empathy and dignity of labour. This is an initiative to orient students towards honouring doctors, nurses, and sanitation workers who emerged as the heroes of the pandemic.
“It is indeed a mammoth task to reopen schools after a gap of 10 months,” says Shefalee Gupta, principal of Tagore International School in Delhi. “Staggered entry and exit, social distancing in the classrooms with limited furniture, sanitising stations in the corridors are in place. Washrooms have been upgraded to sensor-based taps and soap dispensers. All classrooms have smart boards. Internet connectivity has been enhanced for a glitch free experience for the students as well as the teachers.”
While team sports like basketball and hockey have been put on hold, the spotlight has turned towards games like archery, skating, billiards and rifle shooting. “As students had cut down on physical activities during lockdown, we want them to engage in such individual sporting activities,” adds Sashi Kumaar, chairman of The Western Ghats International School in Ettimadai, near Coimbatore. At Rajagiri School, turf football and cricket are encouraged with safety protocols, while Lawrence School has shifted to online yoga for students.
Sadly, there will be no clinking of lunch boxes or sharing food during lunch hour. “Students spend four to five hours at the campus and no eating is allowed on the campus,” adds Rashed.
At Tagore International School, the outdoor space has been used for entry and exit while the medical room and the isolation ward are equipped with with the necessary requirements like oxygen cylinders, oximeters etc to handle any emergency.
One with Nature
“We have added indoor plants to classrooms, especially the ones that purify oxygen in the air and other medicinal plants to ensure that students breathe in pollution-free air,” says Samraj.
Students at Good Shepherd in Ooty learn in tune with Nature. “We used digital resources to the maximum. Students of class IX to XII have laptops now and the Internet access points across the campus enables them to attend classes outdoors, amidst greenery,” says Thomas.
Hillebrand adds, “We are fortunate that the design and situation of the school allows for the breeze to ventilate classrooms. Students, of course, wear masks and are reminded about the importance of social distancing at all times. Parent help is very important and comes mainly in making sure students are ready for school — they have their masks, they only attend if completely well.”
At SSVM Institutions, a new school calendar has been planned where the events with large gatherings of students/parents are strictly avoided. “We are making celebrations virtual and resorting to webinars.”
Mental health matters
Schools have realised that the lockdown and time away from each other has taken a toll on mental health. Fr Verghese says he is at the gate every morning to greet his students. “We counsel students to understand their mental stature, and to build confidence.”
At Tagore School, they have a counsellor to look into the mental and emotional well being of the students.
Some have gone a step ahead, acknowledging the link between physical and psychological well being. Says Rashed, “We turned sports day into a wellness and activity challenge where we encouraged children to make and share short videos of their exercise regimen. We play motivational videos and hold sessions with psychologists and counsellors to help children cope.”