With the government mulling to reopen schools and colleges in Kerala, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) state branch has suggested to postpone the restarting of classroom sessions in schools and colleges for at least a few months and to implement Distance Learning in the meantime.
In the new guidelines publicised by the IMA, they said that public exams could be held by observing strict norms of social distancing.
On reopening of schools, the IMA opined that it depended on several factors. The decision of reopening could be thought of after the uncertainty about community spread is cleared and new treatments arrive or the virus dies a natural death.
However, the IMA has come up with a set of guideline to be followed ahead of school reopening. The guidelines was formulated by a team comprising former IAP National President Dr S S Kamath, IAP Kerala chapter president Dr M Narayanan, IMA cochin president Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, IAP Kerala chapter secretary Dr Balachandar D and IMA Thiruvananthapuram secretary Dr. Sreejith R.
The IMA in its guidelines say that each Grade and section must be divided into two batches consisting of a maximum of 20 to 25 children per batch. This will help with social distancing. At least one metre gap between students is mandatory while seated in the classroom for regular classes.
They said that classes should be held from Monday to Friday only on shift basis. Physical distancing should be ensured during labs and PT periods. Special attention to be paid to the entrance to school and classroom, it said. Different interval/break time should be allotted for each class, the IMA said.
They also said that mingling of students of one class with the other class should be avoided. If the students mingle, the Association said that there was a higher chance of the spread of the virus. With respect to lunch breaks, the IMA said that no lunch break should be allowed and the children should have their meals at home only. In schools having noon meal programme, the students should take their lunch home and not allowed to eat in the school premises.
In case transport, the guidelines stipulate physical distancing protocols. Drivers and accompanying school staff in vehicle must clean the vehicle and high-touch areas such as handles, seats and windows with disinfectant on a regular schedule daily. In the case of private transport, crowding should not be permitted.
The IMA said that school assembly and other common meetings should be held through overhead or classroom speakers. It has also recommended retaining the same class teacher and same students as last year. The Schools should also procure professional protective equipment including gloves, face masks, hand soap, hand sanitizers and disinfectant. The students, teachers and other staff should wear facemasks.
Moreover, the parents should not send children to school if they have fever, cough, sore throat or any illness, until they have fully recovered. They must be readmitted to their respective classrooms only with medical certificate.
In case a child is living in a house where an NRI is visiting, the IMA said that they must be on strict quarantine for 28 days. They should not attend exams or classes. The Girl students must be provided with proper sanitary facilities with separate bins for sanitary napkin disposal. Toilets must be cleaned thoroughly after each shift. They said that school canteens should be closed.
Moreover, the students should be given proper counselling for helping them from any psychological issues.
With respect to distance education or online education, the IMA said school curriculum could be rearranged until regular classes resume. It said that the screen time (time spent on mobile phones and television) should be kept to the required minimum. As children get plenty of free time at home, teachers should motivate them to practice dancing, yoga, meditation, skipping and other exercises. They should hold online quiz competitions and encourage ‘Covid diary’ writing. When school reopens, these could be judged by teachers and prizes given. The schools should see that online classes are not purely academics but extracurricular activities are also included.
On conducting public exams, the IMA said that a minimum of two metre distance should be maintained between two children. It also called for isolation class rooms in case a child develops any respiratory symptoms during the class hours. The schools should maintain a map of all rooms and names, dates, timing and order of seating of children in each room. This is necessary to correctly track contacts if an outbreak is reported in the local community in the future, the Association said. All desks and benches have to be sanitized after each session, the IMA added.