Reopening of Schools in Manipur: Who will foot the bill for Covid tests?

IFP Editorial: The government needs to give clarification on who will bear the costs of Covid 19 testing of thousands of students before they attend classes.

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Following the announcement of a standard operating procedure (SOP) for re-opening the schools by the state Education Department in line with the guidelines of Union Ministry of Education, the resumption of classes for high school and higher secondary students beginning this month on 27 has been decided in the recent Kamjong Cabinet meeting. The decision to reopen schools was made during the Senapati cabinet meeting on December 9, but the exact date for reopening of schools was not decided then. However, the state cabinet meeting at Kamjong headquarters on Friday gave the approval to reopen schools for classes 9-12 and educational institutes by following strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) from January 27. Other states in the country have opened their schools and the state government has decided to schedule the common examination for class X and XII at the usual time of the year as before. 

According to state Education Minister S Rajen Singh, online classes will continue for class I to VIII. The physical or offline classes will resume for class IX to XII. Physical classes for class IX and XI will be conducted in the morning shift and Class X and XII will resume normal school hours by maintaining certain SOPs. The approved SOPs or guidelines have been circulated to all Zonal Education Officers, school authorities in the state. The state government has also advised all concerned to start preparing campus by conducting a cleanliness drive before the schools reopen. All the educational institutions of Manipur have remained closed since March 12 of last year due to the pandemic. During the shutdown, online classes were conducted by almost all the schools and colleges. Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has already notified that its board examination for class X and XII will be held from May 4, 2021. Practical examinations, projects and internal assessment of class X and XII will start from March 1, 2021.

Making the announcement the Education Minister said that willing students will be tested for Covid 19 prior to school attendance and only those have tested negative for the virus will be allowed to attend classes. While they have to produce consent letters from their parents and guardians, classes will be conducted in shifts depending upon the prevailing circumstances of the respective schools. Again for hostellers, only COVID-19 negative report holders will be allowed to enter hostels including the wardens. Specific school management will be established for each school to monitor the situation of the schools. From time to time, the education minister himself will inspect the schools and colleges, it was assured.

As we said, the first hurdle in implementation of SOP would be in providing adequate space for maintaining physical distancing. The present number of classrooms in our schools would not be enough to put physical distancing into practice. For those government schools with only a few students spacing would not be problem, but for some reputed government high schools or higher secondary schools there simply would not be enough classrooms to implement the SOP. More so, in the case of multitude of private schools with thousands of students on their rolls, which are today run like factories or broiler farms. Many of them are commercial ventures for some self-styled educationists.

What has not been made clear in the minister’s statement is about who is going to bear the costs of Covid 19 test of the thousands of students before they attend classes. Previously, individuals were made to bear the costs of testing except for those directly involved in Covid 19 operations. For some of the families who can afford the testing costs, it is alright. But for the poor families, it would be an extra burden. So, the government needs to come up with a clarification in this regard.

First Published:Jan. 18, 2021, 11:04 a.m.

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