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How is New Normal Going to Look Like for Schools & Colleges After COVID-19?

As the world enters into a brand-new year, a number of states in India reopened schools and colleges on January 4, after a prolonged hiatus of many months. Schools in Puducherry, Maharashtra, Bihar, and colleges in Kerala reopened by following the guidelines and SOPs laid down by the state governments. The SOPs mentioned thermal scanning, checking of temperature, carrying hand sanitizers, wearing face masks, practicing social distancing in school and college premises.

Schools in Nagpur for classes 9-10 and in Bihar for classes 9-12 also re-opened. Puducherry schools for classes 1-12 reopened from 10 am - 1 pm till January 18 post which full-day classes resumed. Also, colleges in Kerala reopened and a maximum of 20 students were permitted in a class.

Colleges across India had been closed since mid-March, even before the lockdown had been imposed. On 28th January, the University Grants Commission issued certain guidelines regarding their reopening. The regulator of higher-education desires colleges and universities to call back their research-scholars, post-graduate scholars in science & technology courses and final-year undergraduate scholars. Although, the sum of students appearing for classes in college, at a time, shouldn’t be more than half of the total strength, the guidelines mention.

The outstanding students will be asked to attend online classes and lectures; however, they can visit their divisions in smaller groups.

Courtesy of the pandemic, the whole education system has had the toughest period and has experienced a total revamp.

Even though the vaccine for the virus has been found, it is extremely questionable that the world would go back to doing things the old way. Functioning schools and colleges in the post pandemic era is going to be a great challenge and the schools and colleges will have to reconcile themselves to the new normal. The schools and colleges are going to need a complete overhauling and reorganization of their strategies and guidelines to confirm the safety of their students.

After-COVID teaching spaces will be a lot different and changed from how they were before COVID. Social distancing is something that will be practised even though we have found a cure for COVID-19. In order to deal with the challenge, the schools and colleges will have to make use of blended learning. As the name suggests, blended learning is a method of teaching where education is partly imparted via online mode with the assistance of webcams, internet, and microphones. According to this method, the students would be able to attend their respective schools and colleges on alternate days or in alternative shifts therefore guaranteeing social distancing.

The schools and colleges will also have to deal with their students and requirements to take additional care and protection so as to activities like hugging, sharing shaking hands etc. is totally avoided as the students would be meeting each other after a huge break. The school and college faculty & staff will have to undertake a training program associated with hygiene and safety measures according to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family welfare. The schools and colleges – when they open – will have to be extra careful with regards to maintenance of proper hygiene standards in order to confirm the safety of the students. The use of water taps and hands-free sanitizer dispensers will become common. Also, the institution buildings, classes, courts, canteens and school buses or other transports vehicles owned by the schools or colleges will be sanitized frequently and meticulously after every single use.

The pandemic has also made us realise that the education system of our country must prepare its students for life and not just for examinations and tests. It has unlocked prospects for reconsidering education in a new light of new and evolving opportunities and here comes the addition of NEP amid COVID-19 that lays emphasis on a receptive curriculum which leads to the growth and expansion of readiness in times of emergency, diseases, disasters and pandemics.

According to the changes drawn by the NEP 2020, the method that the educational authorities use to evaluate the understanding of concepts of the students would also change. Rather than focusing only on the ability of the students to learn the topics in their syllabus, the exams would evaluate their 3-dimensional approach. As the commercial industry now focuses more on the skills and accomplishments of an individual, this approach will develop the students well for their upcoming professions by arming them with skills and knowledge which can be used in real-life circumstances. The schools and colleges will pay special attention to the students and assist them in mastering these skills. The students will get on on a journey to analytical and inquisitive learning, and project/research/experimental work would also be encouraged. Such practical activities would motivate students to dive deeper into the concepts and comprehend them in a better manner.

Following this approach of blended learning, the schools and colleges shall also encourage an online or an e-library, that will be a kind of cloud where the schools and colleges will be storing the complete learning content for their students which they will be able to access at all times and will prove to be a helping hand in the absence of a physcal library.

A smart individual is not somebody who always has the correct answers or solutions to the problems; he/she is somebody who at all times asks the correct questions. In order to encourage such a mindset, the teachers will have to involve the students in activities where their analytical thinking skills will be developed and evaluated, and enhanced.

- Bhavya Singh, a third year student of law at Symbiosis Law School and a volunteer at Edjustice People's Campaign.

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