Teachers associations in Karnataka have asked the BS Yediyurappa government to reconsider its proposal to reopen schools in the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Karnataka government has put out a notification on June 1 mulling the reopening of schools from July and has asked teachers to report to work from June 5.
In a statement, the Karnataka State Primary School Teachers Association has said, “In the last few months, the government has put teachers on various duties such as the distribution of ration to children, health surveys, and asking us to stay on duty at the COVID-19 check posts put up by the government during the lockdown. However, the government needs to sanitise the schools which were used as quarantine centres.”
Opinions from Parents & stakeholders are being sought regarding opening of Schools in our State. On June 10,11 & 12 in all the Schools Parents meetings will be held to this effect. So also regarding the way classes should be conducted in schools maintaining Social distance.— S.Suresh Kumar, Minister - Govt of Karnataka (@nimmasuresh) June 3, 2020
The statement asks how teachers will be able to bring back out-of-school children who live in seal down areas, back to school. Every year before opening schools, the teachers go out to survey which children are not admitted in government schools and make them go back to school. Since it is not possible to now carry out the pre-opening duties, the teachers demand that they be allowed to work on the day of the schools reopening officially.
The statement said that it is very difficult to ensure admissions in rural areas, as parents might fiercely oppose it. The statement added that due to the lack of private buses, the teachers, especially women, would find it very hard to commute to school in this situation.
“Parents are afraid to send their children to school, and the government should acknowledge this and wait until things are better,” says Rajesh Bhatt, a member of the All India Save Education Committee told TNM.
He alleged that the schools are pressuring the government to begin classes.
“What is the urgency to reopen schools? I feel there is pressure from schools to reopen, as they are also facing financial problems. At some level, it is even beneficial for teachers as well, because they feel like at least then, they will be able to get paid. But parents are also struggling, especially those who haven’t been paid,” Rajesh added.
Sitara, a member of the All India Democratic Students Organisation (AIDSO), which interacts with educationalists and students regularly, to gauge their problems and concerns, stated that teachers are concerned because till now empty schools have been used as quarantine centres for the people who came back from other states.
“People are continuing to come back to the state. Yet, the government is saying they want to reopen. When will the schools be disinfected, when will the infrastructure be restored? We have no clarity about this,” said Sitara.
TNM spoke to six teachers working in Bengaluru, and all echoed that teachers are anxious that the government wants to reopen schools without consultation with educationalists. The teachers have said that the education minister should call for a meeting with teachers’ associations and ask for their views as well. While the opinions of parents are being sought, teachers lament that their opinions are not being paid heed.
“It’s not the opinions of the teachers that matters to the government, only parents’ views are being heard,” Rajesh Bhatt said.
Teachers whom TNM spoke to also raised concerns about the lack of rest, since they were asked to work during the lockdown as well.
“After all the work during the school year, we were actually looking forward to a break, but we were asked to give summer classes. Teachers, like circus-animals, were being asked to come up with new and exciting online sessions to keep the students engaged, and now we have to conduct exams as well, and follow up with the corrections,” said Rachel (name changed), who works in a private international school in Bengaluru.
“Part of me would want to quit if they force us to go back to work. I already have a respiratory disease, and I’m even more scared to go out, I can’t imagine parents being confident to let their students go to school again. Now that the cases are increasing again, it’s better if fewer people congregate in one place so that there are fewer contacts,” Rachel added.
“Teachers are also parents too, and they are worried, as the lives of the children are at stake. There has been no proper information from the government on transportation, distancing, and what other measures the government will take to keep people safe when the cases are still high,” Shreya, a teacher at a private school, said.
Sitara added, “They should have taken better action and focussed on containment zones when there were fewer cases. But they are opening up schools when cases are high.”