“There is a huge difference between learning online and in person,” says R Niranjana, a mother of two. “Of course, there was a time when staying at home was essential but now, when everything is opening up, for the sake of the child, parents must send their young children to preschool.”
While many countries kept kindergarten and primary schools open even during the worst days of the pandemic, India had ordered a total lockdown of all educational institutions, including preschools. Many such institutions completely shut down.
Now, as most COVID-related precautions are being lifted, Bengaluru’s preschools are cautiously reopening their doors after almost a year and a half. Though even during the lockdown, there wasn’t a complete full stop to learning as some high-end private schools managed to function remotely and tried to provide some continuity in early childhood education. But the gates of many other preschools opened for physical classes opened only around June-July this year.
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Guidelines for preschools
Initially, pre-schools did not receive specific guidelines from the government, the unsaid reason being that children in this age group were the most susceptible to infections, not just COVID and its variants, but other infections like Omicron, Black Fungus and now Monkeypox.
From 2021 onwards, pre-school guidelines have been more specific. The set of instructions put forth by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the SOP from the Department of Primary and Secondary Education included some instructions for the Preschool and the parents of the kids.
For instance, children were asked to carry a consent letter from their parents which allowed them to attend in-person school. Only those teachers and staff members who were vaccinated with two doses of COVID-19 vaccines were to be allowed in. The guidelines further suggested that parents pack home-cooked food for their children along with a bottle of drinking water. The guidelines also requested parents to teach children basic coughing etiquette and that children carry a handkerchief. Moreover, the preschools were asked to constantly keep their premises sanitised and clean, and asked to strictly follow social distancing protocols. But more importantly, if any student was seen with any symptoms, they will be asked to get tested for Covid-19. Additionally, if a considerable number of pre-schoolers tested positive, the school would be asked to remain closed.
“We follow all rules and regulations suggested,” says Lokeshwari Nagraj, Coordinator at Euro Kids, on Sarjapur Road, Yamare village. All Euro Kids preschools in Bengaluru reconvened in full capacity only in June after a break of almost two years.
There is no doubt that preschools aid in early child development. They are intended to impart social, life, and, in certain cases, reading and writing skills. Studies like ‘Modeling the impacts of child care quality on children’s pre-school cognitive development’, state that preschool education has a moderate to a significant impact on a child’s cognitive and social development.
Some parents still worried
“Majority of the parents who enquired about the school have enrolled the kids in the current batch,” says Lokeshwari when asked about attendance and enrollment. “Some parents had concerns because of the pandemic and health of the kids. A few parents were still hesitant to send kids to school”.
“Very often both parents are working and are dependent on schools for overall development,” she adds, “I myself have my kid here in the school.”
Working parents find challenging to manage their young children; they often plonk them in front of a screen (phones or television) to work uninterrupted. “And that’s why pre-schools are important as they fundamentally exist to look after the child’s early development and education along with parents,” says Lokeshwari.
Challenges of online teaching-learning
Older kids who missed out on pre-school during the lockdown today face problems of poor attention span and increased irritability. “I asked my mother if my siblings and I had such bouts of anger and tantrums when we were younger,” says Niranjana.
Talking about how tough it was to conduct online classes for pre-school kids, Lokeshwari explains, “I remember during the online school days, we used to try our best to explain letter formations, straight lines, slant lines, etc. Unless parents had the time to teach, the kids could barely understand anything.”
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Yet, many parents still prefer not to send their children to preschool primarily because of the COVID scare. Thus preschools now have the added responsibility of convincing parents to enroll their children in schools. Teachers say they try to convince parents that hygiene is taken seriously to make the learning atmosphere, risk-free. They say they ensure there are sanitiser-dispensers across their premises, and all staff and children use masks and maintain physical distancing norms.
UNICEF offers some suggestions for preschools and parents for their child’s easy transition back to school:
SUGGESTED MEASURES FOR ENSURING PARENTAL SUPPORT AND COMMUNICATION
• Inform parents about the measures the preschool is putting in place and ask for cooperation to report any cases of COVID-19 that occur in the household. If someone in the household is suspected to have COVID-19, instruct parents to keep the child home and inform the preschool.
• Enforce the policy of “staying at home if unwell” for children with symptoms. If possible, connect with local organizations to provide home care support and ensure communication between home and preschool. Communicate to parents the importance of measuring temperature to both him/herself and child regularly and keeping children home in case of higher temperature is recorded.
• Prepare clear drop-off and pick-up procedures that don’t create panic among families and children; Children need reassurance from their caregivers and teachers after being away from preschool for weeks at a time. Minimise stress and trauma that might arise for children from “curbside drop-offs”.
• Consider staggering arrival and drop-off times and/or have childcare providers come outside the facility to pick up the children as they arrive. Ideally, the same parent/designated person should drop off and pick up the child. Advise against crowding during school pick-up or day care, and if possible, avoid pick-up by older family or community members (e.g. grandparents).
• Create a checklist for parents to decide whether children can go to kindergarten, with due consideration for the local epidemiology of COVID-19. The checklist could include: Underlying medical conditions and vulnerabilities of children and/or family members; Recent illness or symptoms suggestive of COVID-19; Special circumstances in the home environment, to tailor support as needed; Consider helpful posters or visual reminders for parents around the school and at drop off.
• Strengthen communication and coordination mechanisms that promote dialogue and engagement with parents regularly, to alleviate stress, and anxiety and ensure continuity for children between home and school. Support teachers and management to send ongoing positive communication to parents.
• Check in regularly with families on how they and their children are feeling. Develop referral mechanisms for families with psychosocial support needs.
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In-person education resumes
“Yes, initially we were scared. But we went to the school to check their COVID protocols and we were convinced that it is not a major threat anymore,” says Niranjana. “The COVID scare should not be a major worry, at least now. If things get bad yes, we have to restrict again. But now kids should be in school”.
“Although I am a homemaker, I cannot manage the house and take the entire responsibility of my child’s education,” adds Niranjana, whose children are two and four years old. “I do not send my 4-year-old to any fancy pre-school. The one that my child goes to is quite a humble one. It’s all we can afford and the school does its job and that is what matters. Parents and schools have to work hand in hand.”