UV sanitisers, apps: Kota opens to students today

On January 6, the Ashok Gehlot government decided to reopen schools, colleges and coaching centres in light of the dip in Covid-19 cases in the state.

Ultra-violet lighting for sanitisation in classrooms, pathways and seats marked with stickers to ensure social distancing, an Aarogya Setu-like app to monitor positive cases within coaching centres, plush studio apartments for students to ensure they don’t need to step out, and a new 31-bed hospital with an ambulance on call.

Nearly 10 months after the pandemic forced Kota’s Rs 3,000-crore coaching industry to shut down, and prompted an overnight digital switch, the Rajasthan town is preparing to open its doors to students again on Monday, following a major overhaul in the last fortnight. On January 6, the Ashok Gehlot government decided to reopen schools, colleges and coaching centres in light of the dip in Covid-19 cases in the state.

Kota District Collector Ujjawal Rathore said, “On January 6, we issued a Standard Operating Procedure to coaching institutes and hostels with instructions they need to follow before classes begin, during class, and at the hostel. We have also formed three-member teams with an education officer, a representative of the police and the district administration to do the rounds of the institutes from Monday. Several meetings have been held with heads of coaching institutes and hostels, and more are planned in the coming days. They were incurring a lot of losses and had been urging us to open the centres. The economy of the town should get back on track soon,” said

The eight-page SOP document, stuck on the walls of all coaching centres in the town, calls for classes to function at 50% strength, 30-minute gaps between classes, ‘No mask, no entry’ for students, daily sanitisation of stationery and furniture, among other measures.

“Many companies had been reaching out to us with the UV-light sanitisation technology. We did a trial on 30-40 classrooms, and will soon get it installed at all our 22 campuses in Kota. Apart from social distancing measures in classrooms and corridors, we have removed notice boards, where students gathered, and shut down the canteen. All information will now be mailed to students. We are also in the process of launching an app that will help students tell us about others near them who show symptoms of any illness,” said a senior staff member of Allen Career Institute, the town’s largest coaching centre.

The coaching centre has also built a 31-bed hospital-cum-isolation centre with doctors on call. “Before classes begin, we will check students’ RT-PCR reports, which should not be more than 24 hours old. We will make an exception for students who have come from far-off places,” he added.

Of its nearly 1.5 lakh students, Allen Career Institute expects “at least 60-65% to return in the coming week”.

Kota Hostel Association president Manish Jain says that as of Sunday, about 20,000 students have returned to the town. “Over the last week, there has been a lot of activity in Kota, and we are prepared for a fresh start. All our hostels now have single-rooms for students, meals will be provided in the rooms, a new 7 pm deadline has been set for students, and all hostels have been told to keep a floor of their building empty to isolate any student with symptoms. We have also trained our guards to carry out thermal screening at the entrance,” explains Jain.

The past year, says Jain, also saw the construction of about 2,000 studio apartments that come with air-conditioners, RO water service, furniture and kitchen appliances. “Unlike earlier, when students preferred to stay on their own, this year, many are coming with their parents. These studio apartments are for them,” adds Jain.

The town’s 3,000 hostels and 2,000 paying guest accommodations have also been instructed to quarantine students from hotspots; have a counsellor on call to ensure good mental health of students; and to provide them with “healthy meals” so that they don’t have to eat out.

Kota’s nearly 1,500 schools, which cater mostly to outstation students enrolled in coaching centres, are also set to reopen for Classes 9-12 on Monday.

“In our school, each class has about 170 students, and going by the consent letters that we have got from parents, we are expecting about 100-110 to return on Monday. We have cut down our classes to five periods from the earlier eight, students have been asked to bring their own food and water, and there will be no sports, music and library for now,” says Dinesh Vijay, director of M B International School.

Vikas Bishnoi, 19, is among the students who have returned to Kota after nine months. “I had been reaching out to my teachers through emails, but the moment I got to know that classes were resuming, I got back,” said the student from Jalore in Rajasthan. “My parents let me come since Covid cases have gone down in Rajasthan. I have a separate room at the hostel and I feel safe,” added the 19-year-old who is training for medical entrance exams.

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