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Educational institutions, barring primary schools, reopened in Assam on Monday with all COVID-19 regulations in place after remaining closed for seven months due to the pandemic, officials said.
Classes remained suspended for students till class five but resumed for those from class six onward, they said.
Colleges, engineering colleges, universities, polytechnics, private educational institutions, government and private training and coaching institutes in the state reopened as per the government order.
They followed the standard operating procedure (SOP) of the government on sanitisation. The number of students per class room were limited and they came in batches as per the staggered time-tables, according to the heads of the institutions.
The students, teachers and non-teaching staff were seen wearing face masks and maintaining social distance in compliance with COVID-19 protocol.
Attendance of the students was not made compulsory and they were given the liberty to opt for online classes.
However, those who attended classes were required to provide no objection certificates from their parents as per the SOP.
The government SOP, published in newspapers on Monday, said the universities are to prepare their individual SOP for their students to attend classes in accordance with the COVID-19 protocols and the guidance issued by the union ministries of home affairs, education, health and family affairs.
State Education and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told newsmen, "For Assam today is a challenging day.
Schools and colleges have reopened from today. I am aware about two opinions on this decision to reopen the schools."
Stating that a section of the people believe that the reopening of the educational institutions before the pandemic ended is an incorrect decision of the government, Sarma said, "On the other hand only the children of economically advanced families are being able to attend online classes. The rest are missing classes and will be unable to take the NEET, engineering admission tests next year. This will result in a loss of a year for them."
"On one side is life and on the other is future.
Therefore, taking a middle path we had to take a decision to reopen schools and colleges in the state in the interest of continuous education of the students belonging to economically disadvantaged families. Today is that day," the minister said.
He, however, cautioned that the government's purpose will be defeated if the schools and colleges do not follow its SOP.
"I appeal the principals and teachers of the educational institutions to not misinterpret the government's decision - that educational institutions have reopened because the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. We have reopened the institutions under great mental pressure and after careful deliberations", he said.
"As health minister I cannot approve the reopening of the educational institutions. But as education minister I have been compelled to reopen them. Therefore, the teachers are requested to abide by the government protocol. Else the institutions will again have to be closed affecting poor students and causing them to lose a year", Sarma warned.
As per the government SOP published today, classes from one to five will remain suspended until further orders, attendence of students must not be enforced but purely based on parental consent with NOC and a staggered time table would be followed with the total number of students less than 20.
Schools are to be sanitised each weekend and their teaching/non-teaching staff and cooks of mid-day meals would be required to be COVID-19 tested every 30 days. Students, teachers, educational institutions staff would be required to compulsorily use face mask and use hand sanitiser and their temperature checked every day through thermo scanner.
Hostels of educational institutions will remain closed until further direction, it said.
In respect of private educational institutions school buses will carry one-third of the number of students it carried before the pandemic broke out and the vehciles will have to be sanitised twice daily.
Online mode of education will continue for students who prefer to attend online classes as per the SOP.