Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

The dilemma of reopening schools in the wake of COVID crisis
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Continued Closure of Schools and Khwairamband Nupi Keithels Will Adversely Affect Manipur’s Future Generation and Economy

While all other activities including business and service sectors are allowed to conduct their businesses for reasonable hours a day following COVID-19 appropriate behaviours, the three Khwairamband Nupi Keithels and educational institutions are still forced to remain closed to continue fighting COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, the Commissioner of Education of Manipur government, M Harekrishna in a letter regarding reopening of educational institutions has asked the director of University and Higher Education, registrars of Dhanamanjuri University and Manipur Technical University, controller of Technical Education and joint director SCERT Manipur to submit a detailed report on extent of vaccination in each school and college at the earliest.

However, Manipur Health Services director Dr K Rajo on September 3 said that the health directorate does not encourage reopening of schools and colleges though some organisations have urged the state government to do so, despite a clear dip in COVID-19 cases for the past few days.

He further said the number of COVID-19 cases is decreasing gradually but sometimes there is fluctuation in the number of cases. As such, it could not be considered a right time to reopen schools and colleges.

It may be mentioned that in a letter issued on September 2, the Commissioner of Higher and Technical Education including Schools, M Harekrishna has asked the heads of the departments concerned to impress upon both teaching and non-teaching staff under their departments for vaccination at the earliest, if not done yet.

The commissioner stated that the improving Covid-19 scenario in the state is likely to result in opening of the educational institutions in both schools and colleges in the near future.

Among various measures, vaccination of all teaching and non-teaching staff (preferably in two doses) may also be considered to ensure safety in schools/colleges, the letter stated.

While the government is contemplating various modalities for opening the same, it is also imperative that it is done after taking into consideration all the safety measures required to be taken up prior to the opening, the letter added.

Moreover, the apex body of all recognised schools in the 16 districts of Manipur, the United Association of Recognised Schools of Manipur (UARSoM) urges the State Government to formulate SOPs on the early reopening of schools as the state’s COVID-19 situation has improved.

UARSoM held its executive body meeting at Elite Higher Secondary School at Kangpokpi district Headquarters on September 2 in connection with the prolonged closure of schools and the New Education Policy following strict Covid-19 protocols.

In a press conference held after the meeting, President UARSoM L Joy said that they deliberated on the prolonged closure of schools, its impact upon the student community, and the way forward on reopening the schools, reports said.

“We have decided to urge the state government to formulate SOPs on the early reopening of schools, considering the Covid situation in the state and bring back normalcy in the education sector,” Joy added.

Meanwhile, the general secretary of the association Seikhojam Kipgen said that as the Covid situation has become dramatically low now, various states in the country have started reopening schools in their respective states. “As we also observed the Covid-19 situation in our state has almost come to normalcy, we consider it is time to reopen our schools which have been closed for a prolonged period, considering its impacts on children,” he added.

He continued that the prolonged closure of schools in the state has affected the students and their future are at stake now, while appealing to the state government to look into the matter and take immediate action in reopening of schools in the state, reports added.

However, the State Government is not ready yet for reopening of schools. The Government also doesn’t have a clear policy of conducting online classes for the schools.

On the other hand, the latest order of the Home Department of Manipur Government issued on September 6 by Chief Secretary and Chairman of State Executive Committee of the State Disaster Management Authority has allowed activities of the Government Offices, Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) and other public utilities; Health and Welfare Services; Agricultural, Horticultural, Animal Husbandry and Fishery; Shops and Establishments; and Constructions etc.

Even shopping Malls, Gymnasiums/Fitness Centres are also allowed.

All shops and establishments in and around Khwairamband Keithel except the three Nupi Keithels are allowed to open on roster basis from 8 am to 5 pm Monday to Saturday while local vegetable vendors and local grocery shops are also allowed to open for the stipulated times of 7am to 4pm and 7am to 5pm respectively.

Since the Khwairamband Nupi Keithels have been closed down for more than one and half years  since March 21 last year except a brief period of about one month before April 21 this year, not only the women vendors are hit hard but also economy of Manipur. When the COVID-19 pandemic spread in other parts of the country, Manipur government considered marketplaces as the most vulnerable places and closed down women market sheds particularly Khwairamband Nupi Keithels.

The continued shutdown of Khwairamband Keithel for more than one and half years has hit hard on the struggles for livelihood of the women vendors and other connected the daily wage earners of Manipur and affected the economy of the state since the Khwairamband Keithels the heart of Manipur’s agrarian economy. Hundreds of thousands of people of the state depend on the economy generated by the Khwairamband Nupi Keithel. Many daily wage earners and their families depends their lives on the Khwairamband Nupi Keithel.

It may be mentioned that the Khwairamband Nupi Keithels and educational institutions of Manipur have been shut down much before the COVID-19 Lockdown of India since the first wave of COVID-19.

Since the closure of the educational institutions particularly schools, the present generation has been deprived of their right to education in the name of fighting COVID-19 pandemic while the children of the rich families continue their education by hiring private tutors besides online education while children of the poor families cannot do since they can’t afford smart phones or hire private tutors.

Closure of educational institutions particularly schools for more than one academic session have affected the children not only scholarly but also non-scholastically. It affects the attitudes and behaviours of the children even to the extent of socialisation process of this generation. We all know that educational institutions particularly school are not only learning centres of knowledge but also many life skills which need to be learned in the particular biological age of children.

According to the State Health Department official reports and data, the recovery rate of the COVID-19 infected persons has reached 96.08%, the positivity rate also comes down to 6.77% while there are only 2,769 actives cases and 550 COVID-19 beds in COVID-19 designated hospitals are unoccupied as of September 10. COVID-19 deaths per day come down to single digit even with daily death report of nil.

Now, the State Government should take a bold and wise decision before it is too late because the continued closure of schools and Khwairamband Nupi Keithels for longer time affects Manipur’s future generation and economy beyond reparable.

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