Fixing gaps, physical-psychological preparedness crucial before reopening schools: Experts

In view of the plight of the students in the state amid the COVID-19 crisis, experts in Manipur look for ways to address the issue

Expressing concern over the plight of the students in the state amid the prolonged break in the teaching-learning process necessitated by the COVID-19 crisis, experts in Manipur look for ways to address the issue. While some suggest early resumption of classes as immediate needs, some point out the long-term needs to address infrastructural gaps, “loopholes” and the “abnormal” situation in the state education sector even during normal times.

As several stakeholders in the state expressed the need for resumption of normal teaching-learning process at the earliest, Psychiatrist, Dr RK Lenin cautioned that immediate resuming of academic activities will be counterproductive.

“We need physical as well as psychological preparedness before reopening the schools and colleges so that the students can better adapt to the new environment of their institutions,” Dr Lenin said while addressing a consultative meeting on education held in Imphal on Tuesday.

Dr Lenin pointed out that students, especially school-going children are facing various behavioral problems and mental challenges during the lockdown.

“Earlier, they followed a routine. They are now leading a monotonous and idle life and it has taken a toll on them,” Dr Lenin said at the meeting which was jointly organised by the department of education (Schools) and higher and technical education.

All educational institutions in Manipur have been closed since the second week of March and over 100 of them are being utilised as quarantine centres. In view of it, many participants broached for sanitising and disinfecting the institutes before resuming classes and strict monitoring to prevent spread of COVID-19 among the students, teachers and workers.

Observing the problem scenario in the state education sector, Education Minister Th Radheshyam pointed out that the education sector in Manipur is abnormal even in normal situation. He said that the state’s education sector is abnormal and full of loopholes and drawbacks even during normal times.

“While we are not even able to give proper education to students, we are talking about quality education. It is a challenge ahead of all of us now that we are facing an abnormal situation,” Radheshyam said while speaking at the inaugural session of the consultative meeting.

Noting that around 7,800 students have returned from other states according to the Tengbang website, the minister stated that most of them are probably not going back.  Hence, he mooted for introducing shift-wise education now that the government has to arrange for the incoming students as well.  

Stressing the need to find solution in view of the changing situation, Radheshyam maintained that the meeting is just the beginning. “We have to find a solution. It is our responsibility and duty to prepare for the future of our students,” he said.

When queried about the probable timeline for reopening the educational institutions, he said that they might be open by the time there are no more new returnees coming into the state and there are no positive cases.

Education (S) director, Th Kirankumar maintained that classes have been conducted for only around 18 per cent of working days of an academic year prior to the lockdown in the state.

Kirankumar pointed out that there are 4,644 schools (both private and government) catering to the needs of as many as 6,38,491 students and only 45,000 teachers in Manipur.

Director, higher and technical education, Kh Diana said that there are around 60,000 college students and 2,457 teaching faculty in government colleges in Manipur.

Considering the shortage of teachers, AMSU suggested utilising PhD scholars, DIET, BEd, MEd trainees as the shortage of teachers will deepen when physical distancing norms are followed while resuming classes.

Regarding examination and assessment, student bodies differ in opinions. ATSUM suggested cancelling examinations as movement of students from hill areas will be problematic while MSF broached for conducting exams for final semester only and to give marks for other semesters based on assessment in the form of assignments.

Meanwhile, Professor Amar Yumnam called for ensuring infrastructural gaps are addressed in the long run instead of focusing only on immediate needs. Pointing to huge infrastructure gaps between hills and valleys, he urged the government to make sure that sense of deprivation is not deepened with COVID-19 crisis and similar crisis.

While the joint consultative meeting has not announced its recommendations or resolutions, officials of the education department have informed that the resolutions will be announced within the next two-three days.

Meanwhile, Professor MC Arun suggested resuming limited educational activities from July 10 after taking about one week for preparation.

Among the many problems, the stakeholders of education in the state deliberated on the modalities of reopening of educational institutions like admission of students, condensing curriculum/syllabi, assessment and examinations and shortage of teachers and infrastructure among others in the ‘Joint Consultative Meeting on Education’.

First Published:July 1, 2020, 1:22 p.m.