Photo Source: Sikkim Express

Gangtok, June 2:

During a high-level cabinet meeting chaired by the Chief Minister P.S. Tamang, attended by Area MLAs and Departmental Heads on May 30, after careful consideration, assessment and forming a new course of action for the future, various new decisions were announced. Among these decisions, some were for the education sector. Earlier the Education Minister K.N. Lepcha on May 22, had announced for the reopening of all educational institutions from June 15, but it was rolled back and new guidelines issued. Following are a few:

  • Educational Institutions in and around Sikkim are to reopen only from July1. Maintenance and preparations are to start from June 15.
  • Only Heads of Institutions and faculty member have to report to the institutions from June 15, to prepare and make the premises functional for the reopening of July 1.
  • Institutions currently being used as quarantine facilities will be handed over to the Education and district authorities. The premises will be sanitized and cleaned, to be made fit for the students.
  • Standard Operating Procedures for the reopening and operating of the schools have been drawn up, keeping sanitization, wearing of face masks, following of social distancing norms among other safety measures in mind.
  • Classes will be divided into two-three groups.
  • Annual examinations will be held in February 2021.
  • Strategies for children and students who missed online/digital lessons due to connectivity or other issues have been finalized.
  • College and University students from outside the state pursuing their education in Sikkim, will not be allowed to enter till June 15.
  • Respective institutions of the students from outside the state will be requested to prepare their quarantine facilities.
  • Tamang has also suggested that students from outside the state should be allowed to make their home state as their exam centre.

The Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MoHA) in a statement regarding educational institution has said, “States governments/UT administrations may hold consultations at the institution level with parents and other stakeholders. Based on the feedback, a decision on the re-opening of these institutions will be taken in the month of July 2020”.

The previous news of the June 15th reopening was met with a lot of criticism by parents and netizens. Some considered it a great folly on the Government’s part, hoping “the Authorities better have considered this situation carefully”. While some institutions like Nar Bahadur Bhandari Degree College had announced compliance with the decision and informed that they would be reopening on June 15, it was again met with apprehension from parents and students.

Associations like the Sikkim University Students’ Association [SUSA] and Sikkim University Teachers’ Association had sent letters to the Administration to roll back the decision of reopening on June 15. So, the new developments from the Government of Sikkim regarding the reopening come as a great relief to parents and students alike.

As news of India reaching the 5th position in the list of worst affected COVID-19 countries, some teachers are anxious. A teacher from Dikling Senior Secondary School, Pakyong says, “Teachers are scared of contact infection due to many Government schools being turned into quarantine facilities, also because not all teachers are young and some do have health issues, it is a great risk that is being taken. Of course, if the Government has ordered we will report to duty, but we will be scared for our lives and the lives of the students.”

Another faculty member of West Point Senior Secondary School feels the reopening of schools is too hasty. “It is not such an issue for students to miss a semester or a year, I’m sure the parents would prefer for them to right now, isolated at home. Maintaining of social distancing, the mandatory wearing of masks sound like very smart precautionary norms, but we must remember we are only human, we cannot wear masks for prolonged periods, and students will not always be maintaining social distancing. Institutions were closed when the first few cases of coronavirus were reported in India, but now when the number of cases has escalated to lakhs, the government decides to reopen the school,” they say.

A faculty member of Sikkim University, who hails from outside of Sikkim and currently in their home state says that if institutions were to follow the new order, he would have to, make travel arrangements to Sikkim, travel to the state and then stay at a 14-day facility quarantine just to resume his job. “Is the risk worth for me to travel to Sikkim, stay in quarantine just because the administration decided to reopen institutions?”

A post recently has been shared a lot by teachers and parents across Sikkim and from neighbouring West Bengal goes as follows:

To understand the student perspective, a student from the English Department of NBBDC, opines, “I do support the reopening because now concrete classes will take place because the online classes weren’t much help. I have faith that the social distancing protocols will be maintained. Even though it would be more helpful for the student body to be given their Mark’s for this semester, by consolidating the performance on other semesters, but since the education system in Sikkim supports repetition as the best form of learning, there isn’t much to say. 

“While the popular consensus among the students is that they are willing to miss a semester and start again because this isn’t a small college problem, it’s a worldwide pandemic and we are all going through it together. My parents although have strictly told me that I’m not to attend classes, so the factor of risking my health and my family’s health is also looming, but I do hope that all risks factors are well understood and calculated by the Authorities who decided on the reopening.”

While the earlier decision of May 22, from the Education Department, could have been altered by the government, buckling under criticism and pressure of parents, students, faculty member and the general public, but now that the Centre Government has placed the power on the state, this decision may not be rolled, but it is still up to the parents and the students whether they attend or not.

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