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. This should, however, not undermine the needs of young students to socialize 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 antiquity.
Recently, District Administration Offices of Kathmandu Valley (Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts) have issued an COVID19 related ‘order’. This would otherwise be called ‘restrictions order’. This ‘order’ has said ‘no’ and ‘yes’ to school reopening. These provisions are expected to be followed by other district administration offices throughout the country. So, under what circumstances the school can open, while the order suggests the schools to remain closed for ‘physical classes’?
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 geographic risk zoning is also being disseminated by the government. If the colour of the geographic zone is green,it means that restrictions can be lifted in that area. Since, 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 send kids to schools as early as possible. However, the 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
Kathmandu valley can be seen as conglomerate of every spaces connected with another, rather aerially. One might question, how can we help in preventing virus transmission in such a place? When the school kids are at question, we can really slow down the spread of virus when students attend schools in their own locality and avoid public transportation. We can call this bubbles of social mixing. Doing so, we should also consider that the other people in the families and the localities who use public transportation and commute to- and from other parts of city often can be vectors of virus to any locality and family.
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. Keeping the distance mode as integral approach of teaching learning activities for a class / grade, they can bring in 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 and 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 tchin than mouth and nose? If so, please comment below.
Listen to Scientists
Yes, listen to scientists than your local governors. Remember, you are an immediate and the most responsible leader as member of school management. You have influence in the school community and you might have been highly appreciated for your efforts in providing education amidst the current waves of COVID19. 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
Well, the healthcare centres might not give direct data on number of seriously ill patients getting admitted each day, or number of people dying from COVID19, or the demographics of COVID19 infections. However, media of the 21st century bring in the situation anyhow. Be alert, there’s no harm becoming proactive than your government.