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The Year Ahead

We all have questions about physical school and the year ahead. The following interviews aim to provide some answers.

Naima Ramakrishnan

Dr Cyrus Vakil, Principal

Do you feel that the pandemic and the new experience with online learning has changed schooling forever? What do you think the long-term impacts will be?

Lockdown, and the forced move to online, has reinforced the need for face-to-face schooling. It has reminded everyone that while online can transmit content effectively it cannot provide a full substitute. Because learning has crucial social and non-cognitive components, something that Khan Academy or Byju's videos cannot provide. It has also reminded educators and students that timed, supervised, paper-pen exams (which could not be done remotely), and summative assessment in general, are peripheral to teaching-learning. Exam boards cannot do without them but schooling can. Schools can and should use individual and group projects much more for assessment than they had; not just because they provide more enduring learning and are more fun but because they more closely approximate what is valued and judged in the world of work. Group projects develop and test communication, collaborative and research skills much more than exams do or can ever do. PYP has always known and done this. The lockdown has taught secondary this as well.

Of course, the old way will not suddenly keel over and die. It will be a slow fade.

Do you have any idea when and in what form physical school will reopen?

Most students and teachers in Mumbai (where schools have been shut uninterruptedly since March 2020, unlike most other cities) are longing to be back in school. Even parents, a more conservative group, are recognizing how isolation and lack of school is affecting their children. So we will go hybrid -- one week at school and one week from home -- as soon as the local and state authorities allow Mumbai schools to open. Things are already moving in that direction in other states and in rural Maharashtra. So we are all more hopeful about this happening than we were in May-June. But the authorities first need to permit it and I have no crystal ball for that! They cannot be unaware that those without good internet access and access to home tutors are being hugely and disproportionately affected by the continued school closure. Unfortunately there is now a lot of talk of, and belief in, a third wave; often from the same people who in March refused to acknowledge that a second wave was already on. If this fear wins out, school opening is not likely till kids get vaccinated, and that is far away.

Ms Anjali Karpe, Deputy Head

Do you think it is important for physical school to start as quickly as possible? Why?

I know that it is important for physical school to start as quickly as possible, and my reasons are solid, but even as I embark on the “why”, it would also be important to consider the “how”.

The reasons we need to go back are strong and solid and they all come under the wide umbrella of the enormous social need that schools fulfil! In fact the isolation that this pandemic forced students into was also able to drive home the very acute necessity for them to be together. Interestingly, the isolation also indicated that schools are not there just for completing the academic syllabus, but they are actually hubs for shared conversations, active teamwork, the cheers for a sports team and the hurrah for a House event. Nothing can quite beat a huddled conversation in the school library or the spontaneous excitement of a class discussion. Learning happens when one offers a friend a shoulder to lean on, learning happens when glances across spaces convey more than words, and learning happens when a collective voice comes together as one. While we subconsciously absorbed this in physical school, we have realised the true value of this only after being denied all this by the power of an invisible organism and the loneliness of virtual platforms.

So yes! We need to start, but with care and caution. School has been associated with rules and now we may need to rewrite some, and more importantly, abide by these new expectations with utmost diligence. We will have to involve a larger community to agree to these essential agreements - from doctors and school faculty and staff to students and parents. There is no question of opting out and ignoring new systems of operating in school because the consequences of not doing so will threaten too large a group, and this is something we cannot risk.

Dr Shruti Tandan Pardasani, Board Rep of the Health Taskforce

How will physical school be different from school before the pandemic?

While some aspects of school, like open-air sports, will remain quite unchanged, most will definitely seem very different. For example, the students will have to come in restricted numbers, like in groups of ten. A hybrid model may be adopted, where batches will attend alternate weeks of online and physical school. The library will need to start “quarantining” books before they can be borrowed by the next student. Additionally, the students will either have to eat in little bubbles, or the school day will be shortened so that they won’t eat at all. There will be open ventilation (no ACs) as far as possible.

What will the students need to do to make sure everyone stays safe?

Of course, the students will have to wear masks and practice social distancing. There will probably be marked areas where they can sit. Each batch will probably have to stay in one classroom instead of moving around the whole day, and instead, the teachers will move in and out of the classrooms. There won’t be any buses, but safe carpooling could be organised instead.

Ms Nita Luthria Row, Head of Junior School

Do you think it is important for physical school to start as quickly as possible? Why?

As Head of Junior School, I think it is imperative that children return to the campus. In the primary years, learning is not only about reading, writing, and arithmetic. Instead, children learn to play together, take turns, interact with each other, learn how to behave in groups, develop self-regulation, and manage their emotions. While the children are at home, even though we are doing our best to meet these needs, it is very difficult. The children in school do a lot of hands-on learning and learning through play. They need access to a wide variety of picture books and other reading material. A growing child needs to run, climb, and get a lot of physical activity as well.

Parents are doing their best to make up for these losses at home but it is taking a huge toll on them. They have to juggle their housework, the demands of their workplaces and play the role of the teacher. This is leading to stress and anxiety.

There is ample research showing that schools can and must reopen their campuses without any great danger to the children or school personnel. We, at Junior School, cannot wait for the day when we can welcome our students back on campus.

A huge thank you to all those who participated in the interviews!

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