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What explains empty classrooms when wedding halls, malls, restaurants in Silchar are crowded

Eight months of hibernation has grown humankind impatient all across the world. Makeup kits got hidden in the stockpile of masks, the men had no reason to wear a tie, there was no dance in the ballpark, no cinemas for outings… As things got better and the number of COVID positive “cases” dropped, roads started getting crowded.

Walk into any restaurant today during the peak hours in Silchar and it is possible that you would need to wait before you get your table. The weddings are again an extravaganza event. Hundreds of invitees attend ceremonies, bless the groom and bride, eat the food. Masks no longer hide the expensive lipstick or well groomed moustaches. It is life as usual in most parts of the city, but in classrooms it is different.

The education minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma announced in late December that schools and colleges in the state will open from January 1. He had said that the regular classes should begin from the very first day of the year. On January 10, 2021, a degree student studying in one of the private colleges went to attend the class. He was sent back by the professor. “There are no students today, you are the only one, so you will have to go home,” said the professor.

In premier schools like Holy Cross, Collegiate, South Point, the attendance is abysmal. “20% of students are attending classes,” said Mandira Dasgupta, headmistress, Silchar Collegiate School. She added, “We started our offline classes with students studying in sixth to the tenth standard. We have noticed that on an average 30 students are attending classes.”

The Silchar Collegiate School administration took a decisive step to stop online classes when the offline lectures started. Vivekananda Degree College’s director Pinak Paul feels that it is because of online classes, the students at his institution are not attending lectures in classrooms.

The degree college renowned for its performance in Commerce stream has, in most of the days, empty classrooms. “Some of our students are from outstation. They gave up their rented apartments, paying guest accommodations and now they are hesitating to return as the syllabus is almost covered through online studies. That is why we are not suspending the online classes. When the next session begins, we will probably not have online classes at all,” added the director.

The grownups who crowd malls and wedding halls send their wards to these private institutions. A parent finds it astonishing, that the doctors, engineers, bankers, high profile executives in government and private establishments who are wining and dining outside without qualms are actually not sending their wards to classes. She feels this is disrupting the education system and also ruining the routine of children who have no option but to remain glued to the screen.

In government institutions, the situation is much better. This explains the parent’s astonishment. The principal of Government Girls High School, Shoma Shome informed she is running short of space at her school. “We had to conduct classes in the open to beat the cold and at the same time, ensure social distancing. I am happy that the attendance has returned to normalcy and in fact, it is better than the pre-COVID levels,” said Shome.

It is worth mentioning here that two teachers from the school had tested positive for COVID19 while at the institution. The news was reported widely. Despite that, the students are attending classes. The principal informed that the school has been shortlisted as one of those to compete against the private institutions. “The students are loving it. We are now conducting chapter-wise tests and I feel all of these have played a role in getting pupils back.”

The fear factor is far more in town areas and that is why the schools in villages have more attendance opines Barjatrapur Higher Secondary School’s Principal, Buddhadeb Choudhury. “People in town areas are skeptical about the new strain in the virus and feel scared to send their wards to school. But in villages, there is no such fear. We have about 75% of the students attending classes in two shifts,” said Choudhury.

When the usage of masks and sanitisers are dropping, when the traffic jams are worse than ever, when the Silchar Medical College and Hospital’s COVID wards are empty, misinformation and lack of intent are the only reasons why the classrooms could remain empty.

Silchar Collegiate School’s Mandira Dasgupta shares her experience of an encounter with a parent. “A parent questioned me why are we opening the schools now and we must wait for the vaccine to be out and inoculated. I asked her if vaccines are not needed to attend weddings or go to parks, why do you need one before sending your ward to school… she smirked and said, will send my child,” shared the headmistress and that very much explains the thought process.

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