Schools and colleges in Bengal reopened on Tuesday after a gap of 20 months owing to the outbreak of the pandemic. Students of Classes IX, X, XI, and XI were allowed to resume physical classes by adhering to stringent safety protocols prescribed by the state education department.
The Telegraph visited several schools in the districts to see how schools fared on Day One.
At some districts in Bengal, rural schools recorded better attendance in comparison to those in urban areas. Teachers of schools in rural areas of South 24-Parganas, North 24-Parganas, Nadia, Murshidabad and other districts said much of this had to do with the absence of online facilities in rural areas. Because of poor Internet connectivity in remote places in the state, these rural students were deprived of online classes.
Students were let inside the campus at 9.30am after the temperature of each was taken. Each student’s mask was checked and hands were sanitised too, before entering the classroom.
Namkhana’s Harihar Gadadhar Vidyapith in South 24-Parganas recorded 80 per cent attendance. In contrast, only 43.5 per cent students were present at Bolpur High School in Birbhum.
“We had expected even higher attendance as students are solely dependent on offline classroom teaching in this remote area,” said Indranil Pradhan, headmaster of the Namkhana school.
Students being checked with a thermal gun at the entrance to a school in Siliguri on Tuesday. Passang Yolmo
Pradhan’s counterpart at a high school in Nadia district’s Haringhata, Santanu Mondal, said: “Many students in rural areas help their parents in the fields early in the morning. They perhaps found it difficult to turn up in school because of the new timing.”
Teachers of urban schools claimed that the hybrid mode of online and offline classes contributed to lower attendance. Students of urban areas have had more or less regular access to online teaching.
Schools tried to adhere to the state government’s Covid protocol, but seating arrangements owing to limited infrastructure at many schools raised questions. At many schools, three students had to sit on a bench in violation of physical distancing norms. Excited students also mingled with each other freely at tiffin break. “It is impossible to avoid the proximity with friends consciously,” Soumya Chaudhuri, a student of Class XI in Nadia said.
At colleges, discipline was even more slack.
At a college in Birbhum’s Rampurhat, students smeared abir on each other in violation of Covid protocol. At some colleges, students complained of lack of sanitisers and thermal scanners while entering the premises.
Outside the campuses of many schools and colleges, parents were seen waiting eagerly for their children but most did not bother to wear masks or maintain physical distance.
At several schools, the return to the campus after a gap of 20 months was marked by welcome gestures by teachers. Teachers and officials at some schools welcomed the students with roses, pens and sweets.
Teachers at the Bankura Mission Girls School welcomed students with flowers. “Students are like our children. It was a great feeling to see them after such a long time. So, we decided to offer them sweets arranged by teachers,” headmaster of a school at Basirhat in North 24-Parganas.
Students’ organisations, including the SFI and the Trinamul Chhatra Parishad, welcomed students with masks, hand sanitisers, and wet cleaning tissue.
Almost all students said they were excited to be back on campus. Class XII student of Dighalgram Netaji Vidyapith, Puja Nandi, said: “It is great feeling to return to school. I missed it a lot during the last 18 months... It really feels like a reunion. I hope the schools continue classes like they used to happen before the pandemic. But I would have been happier if the government arranged vaccination for all school students before opening physical classes.”
Sajal Choudhury, father of a student in Nadia, agreed with Puja.
“The Covid safety arrangements appeared good on Day One. But I doubt if such facilities and such strictness will continue. It would have been better if all the students had got vaccinated before the opening of physical classes.”
Cooped up at home for 20 months, a few students of Phulia Sikshaniketan in Nadia decided to take a joyride on their cycles along the banks of the Hooghly on Tuesday instead of attending school. But the joy of Class IX student Biprajit Garai, 16, and his friends did not last long as he went missing while taking a dip in the river at Krittibas ghat in Phulia.
Biprajit, a resident of Pareshnath Para in Phulia, remained untraced till late evening.