Bengal: After Week-Long Protests led by SFI, Schools and Colleges set to Reopen on Feb 3
Sfi protest demanding reopening of schools.
Kolkata: "When will our schools open? Uncle, can you tell me the schedule of our exams?" Tapas Kolley, a student of Garia Barada Prasad High School in Kolkata, asked a Newsclick reporter. The long-drawn shutdown of schools has had a profound impact on the eighth class student whose father is a potato seller at the local market, and hence, could not afford a smartphone or computer for online classes.
"The school's online classes are non-functional for me. But I love to study Geography, and Mathematics is my strong point," said the high school student who started helping his father in daily chores and going to the market at 6 am. "For the last two years, I have not had any connection with my books as we cannot afford to have a private tutor," he said. His brother, who is enrolled in class three, was happy with the system of not studying but getting promoted. However, the younger one missed his school friends and his teachers, Tapas said.
SFI Leads Protests to Re-open Educational Institutes
Hundreds of SFI activists all over the state courted arrest on Monday while protesting against the government's decision to still keep the school education system under lock. The civil disobedience programme for an immediate opening of schools and colleges was taken up by the Left-affiliated students' organisations across the state, including at the district levels.
Among those who took part in the movement were SFI general secretary Mayukh Biswas, state secretary Srijan Bhattacharya, and state president Pratikur Rehman. The latest protests come after their entire delegation of a deputation programme to the state's education minister got arrested.
On January 24, the SFI tried to submit a deputation regarding its demands to open the schools, but the student leaders were arrested in the process. Administration, on a harsh note, had used police force on students wherever they protested.
The SFI has been on a protracted movement in the state, demanding the full-scale opening of all state educational institutions. Only for a brief period last year that classes nine to twelve and colleges were allowed to function in the state only to be closed again. The students lamented that they have already lost two years of education in the pandemic, and the online system only increases the digital divide. Hence, they think the direct mode of teaching should start immediately.
The SFI held rallies in the state in support of opening educational institutes and upholding secularism in the state from January 23 to 26. Apart from this, the organisation has also carried out a survey on the school dropouts in the state with its 'anti-drop out squad' initiative. Further, to bring back reading habits for young students in the state, it has started alternative offline classrooms.
Rising Concerns in Bengal
"We are now at a loss. We are going to produce a generation of half-educated students if we do not immediately re-open our schools and colleges," warned Sagareshwar Das, Bengali language teacher at Anukul Chandra High School in Garia, when asked about what was the primary expectation of teachers from the government.
"When pubs and cinema halls are all open following COVID protocol, then why can the schools and colleges not open? Attendance in the online classes is abysmally low in our school, where students of working-class families come; not everybody has an android phone to support their education, and ultimately, the education system is suffering," Das added.
Renowned educationist Prof “Pabitra Sarkar is also peeved at the decision of keeping the entire education system under lockdown when all other activities except education are continuing in the state. [a1] “Schools should be open at all costs, and the state government should deliberate on how this could be done along with the teachers' organisations[a2] ,” he told NewsClick. Noted doctors like Jogiraj Roy also supported the plea to open schools saying that school students were rarely transmitters of infectious disease.
Krishnaprasanna Bhattacharya, president[a3] of the All Bengal Teachers' Association, the largest teachers' body in the state, lamented that the decision not to open schools might have been taken to cover up that a total of 1,34,000 teaching posts were lying vacant in the state.
Notably, teachers and the SFI recently filed several litigations on behalf of citizens at the Calcutta High Court. Answering the High Court's query about when the Trinamool Congress-led state government wanted to open the schools, state advocate general Shoumendranath Mukhopadhya asked for two more weeks' time. He said that as the vaccination of young students was not over, any mishap might happen. For the opening up of schools, the school education department, health department, and health specialists should be consulted, he said.
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