Delhi reopened its schools after nearly 19 months and a horrific second wave of COVID-19 pandemic today – on September 1. Rupashree Nanda from CNN News18 talks to Delhi Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister, Manish Sisodia, here are excerpts from the interview:
What gave you the courage and confidence to go ahead with this decision of reopening schools?
Manish Sisodia: The courage comes from the fact that once when one lakh tests were conducted about 27 or 28 people were tested positive and at some places the figure was down to 19 or even 15. Data reveals that now Coronavirus is fully under control. We do not know whether there will be a zero case day ever. We cannot wait for a zero case day. We had to estimate the quantum of loss borne by the students due to schools being shut on the account of Corona and definitely, there has been a huge loss. One entire generation has been left behind. We have to make up that loss, we have to move forward. In any case, our country is backward when it comes to the education of children. Schools and colleges across the world have reopened while our schools and colleges continued to remain shut. In many states across the country, schools and colleges have reopened. And therefore, we also took a decision after consulting parents and experts. Parents and experts also were of the opinion that schools should be reopened and therefore we went ahead.
Experts have warned about a third wave, possibly soon. There are concerns about the Delta variant. What are fears in your mind, and what gives you the confidence that it will not affect students?
Manish Sisodia: Whatever decisions we have taken in the past one and half years, we have done so after consultation with experts. And we have taken the decision to reopen schools after detailed and exhaustive discussions with experts. Today, experts are of the opinion that the time to reopen schools is now.
Experts are keeping a close watch over the situation- and they are among the top professionals in the country. If there is any indication from them that the risk is rising, then we can always issue orders for schools to shut down again. It takes time for preparations for schools to remain open. But, it takes just half an hour to issue orders for schools to shut down.
You have issued very detailed SOPs. How will you enforce such a detailed SOP? In Delhi, for instance, SOPs have not been able to be enforced in market places?
Manish Sisodia: One good thing about children is that once they understand something, they definitely follow that no matter how difficult. And children listen to their teachers more than their parents. We have told teachers to explain to them students the risks they would be inviting if SOPs are not followed.
The schools could be shut again. There is a risk to one’s own health. There is a risk to one’s own family. In these matters, kids show more maturity than adults.
Many private schools have not reopened today and there is no indication from many private schools that they would reopen. Is it compulsory for private schools to also re-open?
Manish Sisodia: There is no compulsion from our side. Schools and parents can together decide. If parents want the schools to reopen, they may communicate the same to the schools and press for reopening of those schools. Schools may be apprehensive, but after consultation with parents, that apprehension can be addressed. On the other hand, if schools decide to re-open, they may call in the students with the consent of parents. From our side, there is no restriction and at the same time, there is no compulsion to re-open schools either.
There are many parents who are still hesitant. What would you like to tell these parents? How to beat the hesitancy of sending children to schools?
Manish Sisodia: I would like to tell them to keep an eye on the situation around them and keep guiding their children relentlessly, keep asking children whether or not there are any violations of protocols in the school itself but at the same time, gather some courage. You do go out with your child to the market, to parties, to have food outside, and shopping. Similarly, send your children to schools also.
Are you prepared to absorb the learning loss of your child? Are you willing to take the risk of your child falling back on studies? This decision, to reopen schools is not just ours alone, it is yours also. Schools are ready. Slowly, after a few days, parents will also gain confidence too.
What about transportation issues? How to maintain Covid protocols in buses?
Manish Sisodia: Economic activity did resume despite issues. Market places, malls, reopened despite issues. Issues will always remain. There will always be that risk. I am not claiming that the risk is over, however, we have to decide whether we should wait for a zero case day and then reopen schools or we reopen schools and run them according to protocol. Parents, experts and we believe that schools should reopen.
What was your greatest learning experience as education minister in the past 19 months – when it comes to schools and colleges in Delhi? What did you learn the most?
Manish Sisodia: We learnt that the more we adopt technology into our education system, the better it is. And this will happen. Technology has entered the school system and it is here to stay and it will add value.