Thirteen-year-old Lucky Biswas, a student of Class VIII at the Radharani Nari Siksha Mandir in Nadia’s Santipur, wore an eager look on Thursday afternoon. Lucky, who was known just a few years ago to friends as someone who did not enjoy classes, on Thursday seemed to savour the joy of returning home after a long day of classes, following a hiatus of almost 2 years.
Two years ago, Lucky would look “fatigued” at the end of classes, but visiting the school on Thursday seemed to mark a new chapter in her education, bringing a sign that early education was all about a healthy balance of academic and social life.
Lucky couldn’t recall the exact date in March 2020 when she last attended school as a Class VI student. But she remembers the first lockdown of March 24, when, Lucky said, began “confinement in a virtual world”.
Like Lucky, thousands of students across the state celebrated their “freedom” from online classes and "reunion" with friends at their schools.
Normal classroom learning was suspended across the country starting March 25, 2020.
Schools in Bengal resumed limited classroom teaching for Classes X and XII in February 2021. However, classes had to be called off owing to a spike in Covid cases. Classes later resumed only for students IX to XII from November 16 last year, but students of Class VIII were provided a first opportunity on Thursday of attending school after a gap of about 720 days.
“I was eagerly waiting for this day. The past two years were miserable. Life settled with online mode. I am basically homesick but never wanted to stay home skipping school or avoiding meeting with friends. But today I am feeling refreshed. A physical reunion with friends after so many days seemed to have changed everything,” Lucky told The Telegraph, while taking a selfie with one of her classmates.
“We got back to our classroom today and interacted with friends and teachers. We missed this ambiance in online classes over the last two years,” she said.
“The most fascinating part is that today we got rid of the slow internet speed, and distorted calls that often came as barriers before online learning,” the girl added, in an unwitting nod to separate realities even during lockdown.
“There has been a major change in the classroom. Wide gaps marking the chairs to ensure social distance dismayed us. Nevertheless, it was the most awaited reunion for me by all means,” she said.
Koel Patra, a Class VIII student of Krishna Bhabini Nari Siksha Mandir in Chandernagore, appeared elated to have donned the school uniform after such a long time.
"It has been almost two years since I last wore the school uniform. I was feeling excited while entering school today in uniform even though it has outgrown during the last two years," Koel said.
Koel also celebrated the reunion with her friends, including Sampriti by sharing their tiffin.
Kishore Biswas, 40, Lucky's father, said: "Over the last two years, as a guardian, I have realised that without disciplined classroom-teaching the learning process remains incomplete."
Ripan Paul, headmaster of Nadia’s Chakdaha Ramlal Academy, said: "We always realised the drawback of online mode. School provides a joyful learning experience. As a teacher, I am relieved that students are back in the classroom. The students became the victims of the situation. I hope the students will overcome the sombre mental state and once again enjoy their study."
Kaustav Chakraborty, a professor and head of psychiatry at the College of Medicine & JNM Hospital in Kalyani, said: "Parental affection and school life are integral parts of children that ensure their mental wellness. But, during the past two years, I have come across many children who were suffering from mood swings, irritative behaviour, hyper activity, and attention disorder. Children have huge energy levels. But owing to suspension of classroom teaching, outdoor sports and other physical activities their mental health suffered seriously. The absence of friends also tells on their mental state. I am very much hopeful that children will overcome all these problems with resumption of classroom learning."
Though students of Classes VIII-XII were happy returning to the campus, the SFI wants schools to return to their pre-school days. The SFI believes “Paray Pathshala (neighbourhood schools)” was not an alternative to physical classes. The state government has decided to hold Paray Pathshala for students of Classes V-VII from February 7.
SFI leader Srijan Bhattacharya said in a Facebook post: “Classes I-VII are yet to start. Let’s go to schools, not neighbourhoods. The movement (to start all classes) will continue.”