It was a classic case of “one step forward; two steps back”. It can also be called, with equal justification, a case of “the left hand not knowing what the right is doing”. The School and Mass Education (SME) department of the Odisha government had to eat its words after first announcing that physical, offline teaching for classes I to V in the state will start from January 3, then refuting claims of the director of medical education and training (DMET) Dr Rama Raman Mohanty to assert that classes will start on Jan 3 as scheduled before timely announcing on Sunday that the decision on reopening of Classes I to V had been put on hold in view of the rising cases of Covid-19 in the state!
The question that should be asked to the SME department is - when exactly did it come to know that Covid cases had been rising in Odisha? When the DMET said on Wednesday, the day after the decision to reopen classes I to V was announced, that the decision could be reconsidered, SME secretary Satyabrata Sahu was quick to assert that there was no question of rethinking on the issue and that classes would reopen on January 3 as scheduled. Even as late as Friday, SME minister Samir Ranjan Dash was at pains to emphasise that classes for I to V would indeed reopen as scheduled. It follows that the realization about the surge in Covid cases must have come sometime between Friday and Sunday when the minister announced, barely 24 hours before the reopening, that the decision was being put on hold.
If that indeed was the case, it begs another question - how could the department miss the tell-tale signals coming from across the country and even in the state that left no room for doubt that the expected third wave was already on its way? After all, nine cases of Omicron had already been reported by Wednesday when the DMET expressed doubts over the reopening of primary classes on January 3. Fresh positive cases had shot up from 156 to 221 in the 24 hours preceding Wednesday. In fact, the number of cases, after showing a downward trend for a few days, had started climbing again since December 26 when 112 cases were reported. The figures from high incidence states like Maharashtra and Delhi were ominous to say the least. Ironically, the SME department announced the reopening of primary classes the very day the Delhi government announced the closure of schools and colleges due to the threat of Omicron! How could the department fail to factor in all these pointers while first announcing the decision to reopen primary classes and then repeatedly asserting that the classes would reopen as scheduled? In the end, the DMET had the last laugh and the SME department was left red in the face.
The official notification issued on the issue yesterday said the decision to put on hold the reopening of primary classes was taken on the basis of the report of department officials after they visited schools and discussed the issue with ‘various stakeholders’. The statement raises another question. When exactly did the officials visit schools to discuss the issue with various stakeholders? After Wednesday when the SME minister asserted that schools would reopen on schedule? If that was the case, one wonders how many schools they could have visited and how many stakeholders they could have held talks with in 48 hours! If, on the other hand, the officials visited schools, discussed the issue with the stakeholders and submitted their report before Wednesday, how come the minister did not know about it? If the contents of the report were unknown till then, why did the minister jump the gun to emphasise that there was no change in the decision to reopen primary schools? Why didn’t he wait till the report was studied and analysed before going public?
In the absence of answers to any of the questions posed above, the only conclusion one can draw from the whole flip-flop is that there is complete lack of coordination between the SME and the Health department and, more ominously, decision making in this government is whimsical, arbitrary, ad hoc and devoid of logic; a dangerous proposition at the best of times, but utterly disastrous in times like this when we are bracing for a third wave of the pandemic.
One cannot really gloss over the flip-flop saying “All is well that ends well” or “In the end, the right decision was made” because it involves the lives and well-being of lakhs of children. All factors need to be taken into consideration and extreme caution exercised while taking any decision that has a bearing on them – more so because they are unlikely to realise the importance of Covid appropriate behaviour. The SME department’s conduct in the last one week doesn’t inspire confidence that it is doing any of this.
That the department has not learnt its lessons even after eating crow is evident in the minister’s assertion, while announcing the withdrawal of the decision to reopen primary schools, that offline classes for classes VI to XII would continue unhindered while summative assessment examinations for class X students would be held from January 5 and 8 as scheduled. It is entirely possible that the department, just like it did in the case of reopening of primary classes, may have to reverse this decision as well. After all, as many as 23 new Omicron cases were reported and the daily positive count jumped nearly 50% from 298 to 424 on the day the minister made the announcement. And all experts are of the view that a rapid surge in positive cases is imminent.
May be the minister should have held his horses and said; “We are monitoring the situation closely and would take a call on the continuation of offline teaching for Classes VI to XII and the conduct of summative exams for class X students very soon” – to save the department another possible embarrassment in the next few days!!
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
More From The Author: The Curious Case Of ‘Women-Friendly’ Odisha With Its ‘Crime-Friendly’ Police!