As schools reopen amid virus threats, parents are left with Hobson’s choiceWith online classes halted, guardians say they don’t have any other option than to send their kids to schools, but they are fearful of coronavirus infections.
Sumitra Dawadi sent her daughter to school on Monday, four days after in-person classes were resumed. The mother from Tarakeshwar Municipality, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, however, said she is extremely concerned about her daughter, 8, because of the coronavirus threats.
“My husband had asked me not to send our daughter to school. He is okay if our daughter starts learning from next year,” said Dawadi, who sells makeup items at Tarakeshwar. Her husband is in the United Arab Emirates for employment.
“He rings me up every day. He has been insistent that I don’t send our daughter to school,” she said. “But seeing her friends in uniform, my daughter too wanted to go to school. I am in a kind of dilemma. I am worried about her studies but I am also worried about her health.”
Dawadi’s concern encapsulates the predicament of almost all parents.
Despite warnings from public health experts, authorities in many districts and local units of the Kathmandu Valley have allowed operation of in-person classes.
Purna Man Shrestha from Gorkha lives in Budhanilkantha Municipality. He and his wife go to office. So they had to leave two children—son, 9, and daughter, 5–at home, without anyone to take care of them.
While resumption of classes come as a respite for the Shresthas, they are also worried about their children’s health.
“Now online classes also have stopped so we have to send them to school, but we are hearing about rising Covid-19 cases,” said Shrestha.
District Administration Offices of Kathmandu Valley on Wednesday issued a notice conditionally allowing schools to resume physical classes.
The notice says that educational institutions though are not allowed to resume physical classes, if physical classes are a must, local units should analyse the Covid-19 infection situation and do as required. They must ensure that school teachers, staff, drivers and their helpers, canteen operators and board members of schools have been vaccinated, the notice said.
The local administrations have also directed the schools to prepare operation guidelines through discussions and coordination among guardians and stakeholders and reopen schools by adhering to ‘smart lockdown’ rules in coordination with District Covid-19 Crisis Management Centres, which however have now become defunct.
Prior to that, the Health Ministry had held discussions with school operators and asked them to continue online classes as opening schools would increase the risk of infections.
School operators agreed not to reopen those schools which have huge numbers of students and open only those that have students in small numbers, with safety measures as the precondition.
Experts say authorities’ decision to allow in-person classes have left parents with Hobson’s choice—there are no online classes and sending children to school is the only option.
Teachers from some schools, which have not yet resumed in-person classes, said that parents are in dilemma whether or not to send their children to schools in the midst of the pandemic. Others, whose schools have resumed physical classes, said parents are very happy as classes have resumed.
“We have called parents to solicit their views on opening schools and inquired if they are willing to send their children to schools,” Binu Napit, who teaches at Bhanubhakta Memorial School in Panipokhari, told the Post. “We found that most of the parents were confused about whether or not to send their children to school.”
The school, which had decided to resume in-person classes for those above grade six, has changed the decision after a survey with the parents.
“Most of the parents requested us to continue online classes,” said Napit. “Instead of risking infection, a majority of parents want us to continue online classes, which they said are effective.”
The school has decided to hold meetings with stakeholders including parents after the Chhath festival and take decisions accordingly about resuming in-person classes.
Teachers at the Tarakeshwar Municipality-5 based Genial Modern Academy, which has started in-person classes a few weeks ago, claimed that both children and parents are happy as classes have resumed.
“We have started physical classes at the request of the parents,” Biraj Rai, principal of the school, told the Post. “The decision to resume physical classes was taken after holding a meeting with all stakeholders including the parents.”
Rai said the school administration is aware of the risk of transmission of the virus and has been doing everything to follow the safety measures at the school.
“As we are on the outskirts of the town, we have less crowds compared to the metropolis,” said Rai.
Doctors say that resuming schools in the densely populated cities, including those in Kathmandu Valley, is a hasty decision, as the virus is still circulating in communities. Moreover, major cities like Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur are still major hotspots with thousands of active cases.
“Opening schools in densely populated cities is not a good idea. Those in villages where there are very few cases can, however, resume classes,” Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, told the Post. “We could have easily waited until the festivals to resume in-person classes. After all, students in cities can take online classes.”
Since children are also being affected by the coronavirus, there is a need to take a studied decision, experts say.
According to the Health Ministry, over 63,000 children under 18 years of age have been infected until last week, and 86 have died of the virus. In the last one week, 789 people under 20 have been infected with the coronavirus–112 a day on an average.
If the numbers are anything to go by, Nepal is not yet out of the woods.
As of now, 11,048 people have died of the virus. In the last 24 hours, 975 people tested positive in 10,786 polymerase chain reaction tests, and an additional 120 people tested positive in 3,031 antigen tests. Eight people died of the virus on Monday. The number of active cases stood at 22,323.
So far, 6,215,856 people (over 20.7 percent) have taken their first dose and 5,588,517 people (over 18.6 percent) have been fully immunised.
Nepal has been making some strides in its vaccination drive, but children are yet to be vaccinated, and if they go to school to attend classes, experts say they are not only exposed to the virus but they could be carriers as well.
“With the resumption of schools, the risk of infection has increased, and there is every possibility children may get infected,” said Pun, also a virologist. “Major festivals are just round the corner. Crowding during the festivals could lead to a spike in cases. Then only will we know the actual trend of the infection.”
Though the administrations of those schools that have started physical classes say they have been strictly following safety measures, doctors are sceptical.
The Ministry of Health also admits that it never recommended resumption of in-person classes and that it has never said the risk has lessened.
“With the opening of most of the sectors including schools, the risk of coronavirus infection has no doubt increased,” said Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health ministry. “We have urged all concerned to continue online classes to the extent possible.”