COVID-19 pandemic-induced prolonged closure of schools threw the educational system of our country into a turmoil. Since, apart from academics, schools serve as nodal centres for providing well-round development, nutritious food, as well as taking care of the physical fitness and psychosocial wellbeing of children, closure of schools have caused multidimensional effects. Dropouts, no new admissions, and learning gaps, are some additional critical effects of school closures.
Keeping in mind India’s vast and diverse educational scenario, a lot of preparation and strategies are required for reopening and conducting school activities. Challenges like lack of space, limited resources, inequality in accessing technological tools, are some of the major hindrances in the implementation of uniform policies while reopening schools. Introduction of new methods in the form of hybrid and online learning, along with other strategies aimed at taking care of the physical, psychosocial, and nutritional needs of the students is heralding a new era in the Indian educational system.
Detailed studies have given recommendations and prescriptions for various stakeholders involved in school reopening. A study by the Center for Global Development, listed five dimensions of school reopening and recovery after the pandemic. These dimensions are important for policy-makers but can be used by school administrators as well. The five dimensions are –
1) Engagement of communities in school reopening: To design and apply reopening plans, communities have to be productively engaged and trust has to be built as a first step. This helps in responding to government policies quickly, and anticipating potential risks better. Close engagement also enables clear and consistent communication to reach all affected groups.
2) Targeting resources for optimal use: Policymakers have to coordinate actions and resources to manage priorities across different groups involved in reopening. Administrative and survey data has to be used for supporting reopening activities and community inclusion.
3) Getting children back to school: This is a very important activity for ensuring reenrolment of all students, and requires a combination of community participation and direct communication campaigns to encourage back-to-school efforts. Children with highest-risk of dropping out have to be identified, and then given additional attendance options to make it easier for them to return. Families may also have to be provided financial or in-kind support (e.g. school meal) to overcome hurdles of reenrolment.
4) Making school environments safe: Safe school environments have to be provided after the pandemic, and policymakers have to focus on (1) hygiene promotion within the school; (2) screening for possible health issues for risk containment; (3) training of teachers and staff to be able to offer counselling support to returning students.
5) Recovering learning loss: This would require three types of engagements – (1) engage students in accelerated learning to reverse the past loss, and to strengthen future preparations; (2) engage teachers in training and coaching to help students catch up and to keep school environments safe and protected; (3) engage parents to smoothly convert remote learning efforts of students to offline classes.
The study also highlighted the uncertainties involved in planning for reopening, considering how the pandemic may evolve in future, and admits that each country or region’s responses may have to keep local considerations in mind.
Increasing New Admissions:
Various aspects related to admissions process include - lead management, counselling, sharing curriculum information and brochures with parents of prospective parents, accepting admission forms, accepting the first instalment of fee for admission confirmation. In the current scenario, it is essential for educational institutions to adopt cost-effective technology to manage these aspects in collaborating with various stakeholders. Some important things that can help with admission process are:
• Live Chatbot - Live chat or ‘Chatbots’ can be very helpful in resolving parents’ queries through FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) related to admission information and process. It is a simple program on the school website which allows live chat in responding to queries. It is also helpful as an effective lead generation strategy.
• Using video-conferencing tools for parent/student counselling - Counselling is an inseparable component of a great admission strategy and use of technology can prove advantageous in the present environment of social distancing. Online webinars, individual counselling sessions using free tools like Zoom, Google Hangout etc. can boost the admission strategy. These live sessions can be recorded and posted in platforms like YouTube and also used for further promotional activities.
• Online admission process- Online Admission Process has become a necessity to enhance the effectiveness of registration and admission process. All activities like student registration, online form filling, online document management (for academic certificates, photographs, birth certificate, etc.), merit list generation, parent/student counselling and admission confirmation, can be automated using platforms like ePravesh.
• Online entrance tests- Entrance tests for the admission process can be conducted online using platforms like Eklavya. AI based remote proctoring, and secure browser ensure total security of the online exam. Adoption of such processes empower the admission strategy.
• Digital fee acceptance- Accepting fee in the digital format adds value to the admission strategy. Platform like ePravesh can be used for this.
• Social media marketing- Having a strong presence in social media like Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram, goes a long way in promoting the school. Uploading photos and videos of past academic and co-curricular events, testimonials of existing parents and students on social platforms, can serve as an effective marketing strategy.
Roles of Students and Parents:
Besides the role of school administration in preparing for reopening after the pandemic, there are certain measures that students also have to adopt. Some of these are listed below –
1) Learning and maintaining sanitization and social distancing techniques
2) Training to be leaders in health awareness
3) Learning to accept others who get infected
4) Be ready to seek help from caregivers if they feel sick or frightened
5) Adopting age-appropriate techniques
6) Preparing for new methods of learning, including E-learning
As the schools reopen, and hybrid modes of education appear, the role of parents and caregivers becomes all the more important. During the lockdown periods, parents and caregivers have had to spend a lot of time with children, along with a unique chance to closely influence behaviour of children. Besides fulfilling this responsibility with maturity and wisdom, they have to also update themselves on the latest facts and updates about COVID, and ensure avoiding fake and negative news. Parents and caregivers also have to be able to understand and communicate severity of any health issue without panic, so as to take effective decisions about when to send children to school. Also, whenever required, parents have to be supportive about facilitating online classes, and to take effective support from outside resources for helping with distance learning. This includes maintaining a child-friendly and peaceful atmosphere at home, and taking all possible steps to avoid situations of extreme discipline or domestic violence.
Future of Education:
With the effects of pandemic, the future of education is changing significantly. The importance of life skills like resilience, adaptability, empathy, communication, and emotional intelligence are becoming highlighted like never before. Changing over from theoretical to experiential learning, and using technology more efficiently are some other key factors, and schools have to keep these in mind while designing curriculums and using various pedagogical approaches. Syllabus content and delivery systems, both are changing, and require ever-growing use of technology. Governments, including Ministry of Human Resources, and Education departments and Boards, have been announcing and implementing various initiatives for new systems of learning. Some of these include – National Knowledge Network, National Project on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT) – and provide the necessary infrastructure for high speed and high bandwidth networks for educational institutions. The next logical initiative is to ensure such e-learning initiatives reach the last strata of society, and some recent examples have shown this to be feasible.
In summary, some key challenges and preparations required for successful school reopening after the pandemic are as follows –
• COVID has disrupted the global and national education systems in the last two years, and it is very important to take a multi-level approach to successfully and effective reopen schools and to bring education back on track
• Planning and communication are key to coordinate government policies and school administration, so that all stakeholders – including local administration, school management, staff, parents and students – work together effectively
• Students have to learn new techniques, not just for online learning, but also for health & hygiene, empathy and leadership to cope with current and future challenges
• Parents also have a stronger role to play on all aspects of health and education, to provide a conducive atmosphere at home, and act as positive influencers
• The future of education is changing continuously, and requires better and deeper use of technology, while also maintaining privacy and security of children while they are online
• Using effective admission strategies incorporating latest technological tools, will help schools to boost their student strength.
Founder & Consultant - School Serv
Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.