With the threat of Omicron variant on horizon, parents not sending children for in-person school likely to rise
- ● 14% drop in in-person attendance expected this week with another 5-10% drop once Omicron cases are reported in India
- ● 58% parents had been sending their children for in-person classes till this week. Many parents of younger children have not been sending or school hasn’t resumed in-person classes for them yet
December 2, 2021, New Delhi: Schools in most states of India resumed in person classes in August-September of this year after a significant decline in daily COVID cases post 2nd wave of the pandemic. However, once again, since the last week countries from around the world are on high alert after a new COVID variant B.1.1.529, aka Omicron was reported in Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong. In a matter of a week, now over 25 countries have reported the presence of Omicron with scientists confirming that it is more transmissible than the Delta variant and could evade vaccines up to some extent. Doctors from South Africa have also reported a higher number of cases of Omicron in the under 25 population.
While no cases of Omicron have been sequenced in India yet, but given that over two dozen countries, including UK and the Netherlands have reported the variant within a week with no travel history indicates that the community spread of Omicorn is happening there. India has also become very active with the Government reconsidering the resumption of international commercial flights from December 15th and putting in place stringent testing, tracking and tracing guidelines for international passengers coming to India. Amongst all of this, the big question in the mind of many parents is whether it is still safe to send their children to school.
LocalCircles has been very active over the years, especially during the COVID pandemic in ensuring that the collective opinion of parent and grandparents of school children reaches the Government on various school issues, especially around reopening and closure. After parents raised the demand to reopen schools in February this year and again in August, LocalCircles escalated the same to Central and State Governments leading to reopening in many states. The same was the case with school closure in late March.
Schools have been open since August-September in most states but recently clusters of COVID cases have been reported from states like Telangana and Karnataka, with some parents in Hyderabad and Bangalore demanding a move back to online classes. Post Omicron, when parents started discussing the subject since last week, LocalCircles has conducted another survey to understand where parents stand on sending their children to school. The survey received 15,875 responses from parents residing in 308 districts of India. 63% of the participants were men while 37% were women. 43% of respondents were from tier 1 districts, 30% from tier 2 and 27% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts.
With the threat of Omicron variant on the horizon, schools are likely to see a drop in students attending in-person classes
The question in the survey asked parents, “With the threat of COIVD variant Omicron on the horizon, what is your view on sending your children/grandchildren to school for in-person classes?” In response, 24% of respondents said “Have been sending and will continue till several cases of Omicron variant get reported in my district or town”, another 10% said “Have been sending and will continue till atleast 1 case of Omicron variant is reported in my district or town”. Breaking down the poll, 5% “Have been sending and will continue till several cases of Omicron variant are reported in India”, and another 5% “Have been sending and will continue till 1 case of Omicron cases of Omicron variant is reported in India”. There were also 14% who “Have been sending but plan to stop sending now till there is more clarity on Omicron variant”. 32% of respondents said “Wasn’t sending them to in-person school till now and will continue to do the same till there is more clarity”, and 10% said “Schools for my children/grandchildren have not started in-person classes yet”. The findings indicate that with the threat of Omicron variant on the horizon, schools in India are likely to see a 14% drop in students attending in-person classes immediately with more students dropping out as Omicron is reported in India. This question in the survey received 15,875 responses.
Omicron cases will have a direct impact on parents’ willingness to send children to school for in-person classes
If the above data is analysed, it indicates that 58% of parents were sending their children to school till the beginning of this week. The remaining 32% are parents mostly with younger children and for about 10% of parents, schools that their children go to have not resumed in-person classes yet. Of the 58% that were sending children to school, 14% will stop doing so post the threat of Omicron taking the number to 44%. Once the first case is reported in India, another 5% of parents are likely to stop sending children to school and once multiple cases are reported another 5% are likely to do so leaving only 34% of parents still sending children to school. Another 10% of parents will take the call of stopping in-person school for their children only when Omicron case is detected in their district and once several cases are detected in their district, almost all parents are likely to stop sending children. Chances are, before that happens, schools would be closed by State Governments and District Magistrates. In one of the first examples, Mumbai and Pune, earlier this week, postponed the resumption of classes for younger children by two weeks from December 1st to 15th in light of Omicron.
The key for the safe reopening of schools, according to global epidemiologists, depends on six factors including (a) vaccination of every staff member, (b) good outside air ventilation in classrooms including air purifiers in each class, (c) mandatory masking of KN95 or N95 (no cloth or surgical mask), (d) seating with social distancing, (e) no big Indoor gatherings, and (f) Random antigen testing of staff and students. School administrators should implement daily declarations by parents about the health of the child and all the family members along with thermal checks for all at school entry. At this point, keeping schools open but with high levels of caution is the right approach.
LocalCircles will share the findings of this survey with key stakeholders in the Central Government and Chief Secretaries of all states so inputs of parents can be considered as they finalise their school protocols in light of the threat of the new Omicron variant.
The survey received 15,875 responses from parents residing in 308 districts of India. 63% of the participants were men while 37% were women. 43% of respondents were from tier 1 districts, 30% from tier 2 and 27% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts. The survey was conducted via LocalCircles platform and all participants were validated citizens who had to be registered with LocalCircles to participate in this survey.