Even as the debate surrounding reopening schools in Karnataka continues, 27 students in classes 3 and 4 tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Belagavi and Kalaburagi districts. All these children were attending classes on the temple grounds close to their homes as part of the Vidyagama programme of the Department of Public Instruction, and the parents have alleged that it was due to this that the children were infected.
As part of the Vidyagama scheme, teachers who work in government schools must gather 10 to 15 students at a time from their respective grades and meet at public places like playgrounds and temple grounds to clarify doubts and also give students notes to study. While this brought relief to students who did not have access to the internet, parents in the M Thimmapur village in Belagavi district's Ramdurg did not allow teachers to even enter the village on Friday after 23 students tested positive.
Thirty students from the Government Kannada Primary School in the M Thimmapur village tested positive over the last 15 days, which angered parents. Pundalik, Belagavi’s Deputy Director of Public Instruction, told TNM that parents were worried that their children had been affected as they began attending classes two months ago through the Vidyagama programme.
"We don't know the reason why they tested positive. We have launched an inquiry. There is no need for parents to panic," he said. In the last 15 days, the district administrations in Karnataka have been conducting random COVID-19 tests on children.
According to Hebbala, President of the Belagavi Government Teachers' Union, 15 teachers contracted COVID-19 in the district in the last two months alone. The total number of teachers who contracted the virus in the district since March this year stands at 57.
He added, “We have advised the district administration not to reopen schools until the cases come down. The parents are in a panic, especially after these 30 children tested positive. If the children are being taught in schools, at least we can sanitise the surroundings regularly. Under the Vidyagama programme, we can't do that. In the meeting CM held with the DCs (Deputy Commissioners) this week, we suggested that the schools not be reopened," he said.
In Kalaburagi district's Mashal village located in Afzalpur taluk, four children tested positive after a randomised test was conducted two weeks ago.
In Kalaburagi, DDPI Badagundi said that tests were conducted for 203 students and teachers of which four students tested positive. An additional 24 samples of students and teachers were taken on Monday and the results are awaited. "We don't know whether they got it because of the Vidyagama programme. We will investigate the matter. Parents should not panic and must take precautions like ensuring that the children are wearing masks, that their hands are regularly sanitised and that they maintain social [physical] distancing," DDPI Badagundi said.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister B Suresh Kumar denied allegations that the students were infected due to the Vidyagama programme. “There are 49.3 lakh students and two lakh teachers were a part of the programme. The primary school headmaster of Mashal village of Afzalapura taluk in Kalaburagi was infected one month ago. He has recovered and is back to work. In random testing done by the health department among 203 students, four tested positive. However, they were not infected on the campus,” he said.
He also said that there was no evidence to suggest that the children who tested positive in Ramdurg did so because they attended classes under Vidyagama. “Several people there have been infected, including 23 children. The deputy director of public instruction has informed that there’s no evidence that they were infected because of Vidyagama,” he added.