Community Transmission To Impact Schools

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Actually, asking for written undertaking from the parents is a clever way for the government to avoid the responsibility and prevent litigation

Nandkumar M Kamat

People were relieved to find the Chief Minister  Pramod Sawant rapidly recovering from COVID19 and re-joining the duties. Since he was sworn in CM Sawant was doing only firefighting. With just about 450 days left for imposition of model code of conduct for the next assembly elections in 2022,  CM Sawant needs to adopt a studious and knowledge-based approach to decision making in all the sectors. As a microbiologist my considered advice to state government is to shut down all educational institutions till end of December this year unless the Government wants to launch an experiment to expose the immunologically weak students to community transmission. Parents know nothing about viruses and virology so it is wrong to get written undertakings from them and then begin to blame them later once students get infected. Actually, asking for written undertaking from the parents is a clever way for the government to avoid the responsibility and prevent litigation.

The Chief Minister must know that for COVID19 spread dates and calendars have no meaning. What matters is the environment in which the virus spreads more efficiently. The handling of the pandemic in Goa is not knowledge based from day one. The government is not providing any differential information. There are allegations of hiding of data and selective publication of statistics. The government is scared to even find out whether there is a local virulent strain of COVID19 due to mutations. There is none in health department to check and study how winter conditions in countries like Italy and Spain caused massive infections and what it means for us in Goa. I might have sent a thousand messages since January, 2020 to my good old friend  health minister Vishwajit Rane on COVID19 but rarely got any response from him probably because he is too busy.

Whole world is adopting a rational, knowledge-based, community centered approach for micromanagement of COVID19 pandemic. And here is Goa- country’s wealthiest, most literate and urbanised state with better health indicators having a huge educated cabinet with crorepati ministers and saturation level administration we don’t see respect for knowledge-based micromanagement of the pandemic. The real acid taste of facing COVID19  would be with the onset of the winter and the cyclonic stormy, breezy environment in November and December. All seven lethal strains of Coronaviruses love low temperature, low humidity and the foggy , misty , dewy winter conditions. COVID19 would find ideal cool  conditions in Goa from October to February due to fall in daily minimum temperature and reduction in daily relative humidity. Goa government may press the panic button in October as cases go out of control due to environmental conditions very favourable to spread of community transmission. Somehow government, educationists, teachers, parents all have forgotten that we are facing a war like situation and under such situation you have to temporarily forget normal schooling and education and actually begin to plan for subsequent academic year provided normalcy returns by then.

This is not an ordinary war. It is against an invisible enemy which is now everywhere. When community transmission begins the best way is to prevent it is by not stepping out.

Whoever is advising the Chief Minister, the education department and the government of Goa knows nothing about retroviruses, Coronaviruses and modes of RNA virus transmission and risks associated with exposing students with weak immunity to COVID19 load now all over Goa. They are blindly following the dictates of central government despite Goa now leading the country in the number of positive cases per million. Such a situation should have actually led to a rigorous, no excuses three weeks compulsory state wide lockdown with total sealing of the borders. That would have stopped the virus completely and Goa would have been declared a COVID19 free state within one month. Such hard and unpopular decisions are difficult for government and the politicians.

Naturally there would be spikes in cases and deaths till winter conditions persist. All the countries suffered the maximum during the winter so how the local educational institutions which were shut down when the infection levels were low could be now partially or fully opened with onset of the winter conditions when we also have Malaria, Chikungunya and Dengue?

Huge amount of self-reading based, book reading based, knowledge, skill, app based, Video based, internet based, game based , quiz based education is possible for all the students sitting at home because finally knowledge of the students matters more than the stereotyped classroom education.

This is the best opportunity for the government to test the functionality, capacity and limitations of all online teaching platforms. The government, teachers, parents and students know that finally all the examinations are purely farcical and test only the memory of the students in every subject. Majority of students cannot answer a single indirect question. The uselessness of degrees awarded based on memory-based examinations by Goa University was demonstrated after failure all the eight thousand commerce graduates and post graduates in the written tests held by Goa Public Service Commission. Were not they products of offline, face to face classroom education? So the pandemic gives the Goa government an ideal opportunity to shift to self-learning, skill and knowledge based education till normalcy returns and move away from examinations based on direct questions and learning by rote.

By December the state government would see the dividends of not opening the educational institutions very clearly as students become familiar to online teaching platforms and thus lay down the foundation for better online educational infrastructure under the new educational policy. On the contrary misguided by those who know nothing about virology or epidemiology if the Chief Minister goes ahead with partial or full school reopening then the state government should also take the full responsibility of exposing the immunologically weak, underweight and nutritionally weak students insulated and protected so far within the confines of their houses to the community transmission.

Opening educational institutions is not similar to holding SSC or HSSC examinations. Even these were held when COVID19 cases were negligible. Now the virus is everywhere in public space. Just as it did not spare the education minister of the state, it would not spare the innocent, unsuspecting students who would be offered as sacrificial lambs by the most impatient among the decision makers. Ranked as state with highest number of COVID19 positive cases per million Goa would also score high nationally when schools begin to get impacted by community transmission. While parents cry, COVID19 would have last laugh during winter.