With the vehement subsequent waves of COVID-19 pandemic everything appears to be under a complete siege in this part of the world called Manipur. When there was no proper planning anticipating subsequent waves and where there is no a public health system in place, the state remains fully in grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yes, the first and foremost thing we are confronted with is to fight the pandemic so that we can survive. Hence, containment zone, lockdown and curfew, total curfew – be it any name – it has gone on extending continuously.
However, the world never stops and the clock continues its motion. All activities continue in the rest of the world. Normal lives and activities continue in countries and provinces where the pandemic is under control.
Most importantly, school education continues in most parts of the world nurturing the children and educating and empowering them to adapt in the post-COVID-19 world.
Unfortunately, it is a different scenario in Manipur though some private schools continued online classes amidst the total curfew or lockdown before summer vacation was announced.
After the COVID-19 first wave in Manipur, schools and colleges were allowed to resume physical classroom activities from January 27, 2021 following Covid appropriate behaviours.
Unfortunately, Manipur government on April 9 has once again decided to close the schools for classes 6 to 8 with immediate effect until further notice as part of the precautionary measures to counter the second wave of COVID-19.
Education (S) Director L Nandakumar Singh issued the above order and said that it applies to both private and government institutions. However, the state allowed physical classes for Classes 9 to 12 by strictly observing the approved SoPs and guidelines of COVID-19 framed by the state government.
The order also reiterated that Class 5 students and below would be taught through online mode only as notified earlier.
It may be noted that after almost a year of closure following the pandemic outbreak, Manipur reopened schools for classes 6 to 8 from March 8, 2021. Classes 9-12 resumed physical classes from January 21, 2021, with proper COVID-19 guidelines issued by the state and central government.
The state government on April 19, 2021 apart from the postponement of the board examination also ordered the closure of all the schools, coaching institutes, boarding and hostels in schools, and private hostels accommodating students due to the COVID-19 surge.
The official order issued by the Manipur government states, “The classes on school campuses that began on January 27 for students of Classes 11 and 12 were also suspended with immediate effect and online classes will be resumed at the earliest.”
The schools and other educational institutes in Manipur will reopen when the COVID-19 situation in the state is under the control of the government.
However, the order reiterated that online classes will still continue as usual by all concerned authorities.
Moreover, the state government has declared that Manipur schools under the state board and higher secondary council will be closed for summer vacation from May 1 to May 31 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
All government and private schools affiliated to Board of Secondary Education Manipur and Council of Higher Secondary Education Manipur will be closed for the entire month of May. An official notification in this regard was released on April 26.
Till summer vacations began, arrangements needed to be made to resume online classes, as per the official order.
However, the state government couldn’t ensure online classes of all the schools both government and private. Some private schools and government schools carried out online classes while majority of the private schools couldn’t conduct online classes as the salaries of most of the private school teachers are not paid.
Now, some pertinent questions arise – Is the State Government prepared to ensure conduct of classes whether online or physical for the school students when the summer vacation ends on May 31? Is it not the timely responsibility of the State Government to formulate a new approach or strategy to school’s education ensuring classes of all the school students of both private and government adapt to the changing situation? How long can we leave our children without proper education in the name of COVD-19 pandemic while their compatriots of the world are advancing amidst the pandemic?
We must accept that the COVID-19 pandemic experience signals a pivotal opportunity for the transformation of schools in Manipur too. Now, more than ever, our education system needs to be ready to support our students with the knowledge, understanding, skills and personal attributes that will equip them to survive and thrive in a world that we can no longer predict.
The rapid pace and pressure to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis also signals the urgent need to equip students not only with the basic skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking, required to address new ways of learning but also with digital capabilities in increasingly complex learning environments.
New approaches and systems need to be developed to better manage teacher-student interaction, class discussions and group tasks. Personalised support will be required to ensure both teachers and learners build digital readiness and capability. Character and value education becomes increasingly important as we adopt ethical behaviour in online learning. Increasingly, teachers and students will need to co-create and co-design learning – offering opportunities for students to influence the what, where and how of learning and helping them connect more closely to their own outcomes.
New means of assessment which measure both surface and deep learning, as well as creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication, as opposed to traditional remember-and-repeat methods need to be designed. We will need teachers who are not only knowledgeable of their subject and skilled in its teaching, but also skilful in fully leveraging human connection and digital transformation to bring about quality, tailored learning which is both efficient and effective.
If the present situation does not allow opening normal physical classes, it is the need of the hour to conduct online classes for all the schools both public and government in spite of the stark reality of digital divide. The government should take the responsibility to ensure uniform online classes in all the schools both private and government.
Therefore, a hybrid learning model needs to be formulated. The hybrid learning model will enable schools to provide the right mix of all learning possibilities in blended online and offline environments which can prepare students for a world where knowledge is not fixed, ensure the development of lifelong skills and enable them to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
Despite the unprecedented disruption it has brought, the COVID-19 pandemic offers a once-in-a-life-time opportunity towards a strategic transformation of schools. What we need is the responsibility of the state government to ensure online classes for all the students of both private and government schools for a new hybrid learning model.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics