Immunisation seen as key to reopening educational institutions
Educational bodies under the Central government have been asked to assess the status of COVID-19 vaccination among staff and teachers in schools and colleges, according to a senior Education Ministry official. This comes amid demands from a section of faculty, parents and students that vaccination must be made a pre-requisite for reopening educational institutions to ensure that the infection does not spread on campuses.
The official said the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) were among those who had been asked to make such an assessment regarding vaccination of both teaching and non-teaching staff in institutions under their purview. Such data could be key to decisions regarding reopening campuses.
These regulatory and administrative bodies have also been asked to provide top-down encouragement and pressure to speed up the rate of vaccinations and move quickly toward 100% coverage. However, the official said that there is no move as of now to set a formal deadline for mandatory vaccination of teachers.
At a press conference last week, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Balram Bhargava had urged that not only teachers, but also all support staff such as school bus drivers should be vaccinated on a priority basis. He had suggested that it would be wise to reopen the primary school sections first, once staff are vaccinated, as young children are at lower risk of infection.
However, most States which have begun reopening schools this month with the oldest classes, especially Classes 10 and 12 students, who will write board examinations. Several States have already taken steps to drive vaccination among educational staff. The Delhi government set up a special vaccination centre for teachers and their families, while the Goa educational department warned teachers that if they do not get vaccinated and do not have a medical exemption, they may be required to produce negative RT-PCR tests on a weekly basis. Karnataka has launched a drive to vaccinate all college-going students and higher education faculty by the end of July.
The Education Ministry is likely to convene a virtual meeting of education officials in States — including those in charge of schools, higher education, technical education and skill development and vocational education — after Independence Day to take stock of the current situation after 16 months of school closures.
However, Education Ministry officials emphasised that the onus for reopening schools as well as for assessing learning gaps caused by the extended closures largely rest with State governments.
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