This question is actually a million dollar question. With the current waves of the COVID19 pandemic, we always have risk factor associated with the ‘school reopening’ plan. However, this should not undermine the needs of young students to socialize and develop while studying. Scientists have always believed that face to face socialization and studying should not be taken separately. Rather, these are integral processes of school systems since the antiquity.
Recently, District Administration Offices of Kathmandu Valley have issued a COVID19 related ‘order’. This would otherwise be called ‘restrictions order’. This ‘order’ has said ‘no’ and ‘yes’ to the schools’ reopening. These provisions are expected to be followed by other district administration offices throughout the country. We know that the order suggests the schools to remain closed for ‘physical classes’. Under what circumstances the schools can open?
What does the government say?
In the section ‘ka’ of the order, it says – “The educational institutions can ‘not’ conduct classes in the physical gatherings of teachers and students. If there is need of ‘physical classes’, the local governments can coordinate with district level COVID-19 Crisis Management Center (CCMC) to decide upon physical reopening of the schools. While doing so, they must be following the guidelines of ‘smart lock down'”. So, what provisions are in ‘smart lock down’, let us explore !
The new CCMC guideline has stated that the types of lockdown depend on types of risk. The government clearly disseminates with the geographic risk zoning. If the colour of the geographic zone is green, it means that the restrictions can be lifted in that area. The district administration offices have started to talk about school reopening albeit not being vocal on this. We can assume that the stakeholders with vested interests are getting desperate to conduct face-to-face classes as early as possible. We hereby discuss on the science of virus transmission in tandem with safe school reopening possibilities in Kathmandu valley and elsewhere in Nepal.
Do not mix students from different geographical areas in confined spaces
In the recent decades, Kathmandu valley has transformed as a conglomerate of every spaces connected with another. The bird eye view of the valley bed makes one really frustrated to imagine living here. One might question, how can we help in preventing virus transmission in such a place? When the school kids are at question, we can talk on the places where they really go. Indeed, they go to the schools. We can really slow down the spread of virus when students attend schools in their own locality and avoid public transportation. We can term this as ‘bubbles of social mixing’. Doing so, we should also consider that the other people in the families and the localities. They might bring the virus to the families while they use public transportation and commute to- and from other parts of city.
Well, the USA has started to vaccinate school kids as young as 12 years old. We now know that vaccination reduce the risk of severe illness and death; it is therefore advisable that Nepal can vaccinate its younger sections of population to help them safely attend schools physically.
Cross ventilated and spacious classrooms
I bet many schools in Nepal lack such big classrooms. When it comes to ventilation, window to window air flow (cross ventilation) has been found to be diluting the viral load. Combined with physical distancing and hygiene guidelines, this strategy might work very well in delaying the rapid spread of the virus.
Distribution of school time
Almost all schools of Nepal have already started distance forms of classes. The distance mode can be one of the approaches of teaching learning activities for a class / grade. They can bring students to school premises, few students and teachers at a time. This reduces the risk of mass transmission and schools start being resilient in case of future pandemics too. Big, clean and well-ventilated halls can be used to guarantee safety. Rule of mandatory mask can be enforced.
Outdoor teaching and learning activities (TLAs) have been used since the antiquity. The place based education theories suggest effective and meaningful pedagogy outdoors. Students associate themselves more towards the environment and society outdoors. When this strategy is coupled with disaster prevention strategy of schools, the school community eventually become more confident in disaster resilience – be it physical, or biological.
SMS – sanitation, mask, social distancing
Washing hands pretty well with soap and water, or use of standard hand sanitisers prevents the spread of viruses through hands. Masks prevent you as carrier of virus spreading the loads of virus via the air and/or fomites that you are in contact with. Social distancing prevents the infection pretty well as virus particles might not have sheer momentum to enter into the new host.
When we know this, we should never forget this SMS. Or do you need the school governer send an SMS to you everyday? Have you seen a school teacher or head teacher wearing mask on chin than mouth and nose? If so, please comment below.
Listen to Scientists
Listen to scientists than your local governors. You might have an influence in the school decisions. If so, please behave as a proactive member of the school management. Its better that you strive for providing education amidst the current waves of COVID19. However, please do not take any risk. Children are getting increasingly vulnerable to more serious forms of COVID19 infections with the emerging forms of the virus.
Get updates from healthcare centres
The healthcare centres might not directly disseminate the data on the number of seriously ill patients, or number of people dying from COVID19. However, media of the 21st century bring in the situation anyhow. Be alert, there’s no harm becoming proactive than your government.