In Lakshadweep, India's only territory that remains Covid-free, schools held their first gathering of the year.

Children’s Day, November 14, was a quiet affair at schools across India barring some Zoom calls — with one exception. In Lakshadweep, India’s only territory that remains Covid-free, schools held their first gathering of the year.

At Junior Basic School in Kavaratti East, a student dressed as ‘Chacha Nehru’ hoisted the national flag. Then, students chosen to play famous leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rani of Jhansi delivered speeches, followed by dances, a miming performance and singing.

“We held small cultural competitions at the grade level and handed out cash prizes,” says Head Master Fathahudheen. “It was important for the students to relax.”

The decision to have the function, another marker in Lakshadweep’s slow but steady return to normalcy, was taken a month after the island reopened its schools to welcome back over 11,000 students — and has since seen no cause for concern. The students returned in overwhelming numbers to newly painted classes, with precautions in place, and attendance is nearly 100 per cent now.

To ensure social distancing, even and odd number classes are held alternately during the day — so Classes 1, 3, 5 and 7 attend from 10 am to 1 pm, and 2, 4, 6 and 8 from 1 pm to 4 pm. Senior classes run through the day. In the initial days, masks were mandatory, but schools are more relaxed now.

Both schools and parents were eager to have classes running as patchy Internet makes online classes unviable on the island. Till October, teachers, especially in primary schools, had been readying worksheets and sending them to children at home.

A teacher who does not want to be named says that many students did not finish these worksheets and they ended up repeating the same when schools reopened. But, more than this, the teacher adds, “I think students are happy to come to school because they have limited access to other places right now. They get to spend that time with us, six days a week. Attendance has been good.”

Nizamuddin K I, a Kavaratti-based panchayat member, says his daughter, who is in Class 6, had been dying to meet her friends. They have started hanging out again post-school at the beach, a short walk from their home. When he gets time, Nizamuddin adds, he takes his daughter for a drive in the evenings.

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Showkath Ali, Assistant Educational Officer, Lakshadweep, says while there is no consolidated attendance figure, reports indicate it is “high… almost 100 per cent”.

Having ensured zero-Covid status by making quarantine of at least 10 days at government facilities, first in Kochi and then Lakshadweep, must for any visitors, the UT administration is now thinking of relaxing this by letting in people who have a Covid-negative RT-PCR certificate acquired not more than 48 hours before travel.

For residents, this means a new SOP since December 28, including compulsory masks and penalties for violation of social distancing. Not all islanders are happy, with elected local bodies like Kavaratti and Kalpeni panchayats passing resolutions asking the administration to at least consider continuing the quarantine requirement.

One of them, refusing to be named, says, “We are hearing reports of second waves of infection around the world with a new strain of the virus having greater ability to transmit. Obviously people are tense.”

But the Lakshadweep administration remains confident and, come January, will cross another milestone, by holding school examinations, in person. Ali says that under the new SOP, “Children up to the age of 10 have been advised not to go out of their homes excessively, barring school. At school, all students must wear masks (penalty is only for adults) and maintain social distancing. This will be applicable for the examinations scheduled next month too. Classrooms will have 50 per cent the usual capacity. Students exhibiting symptoms like fever and cough will undergo a medical examination and can be allotted separate rooms to write exams.”

Fathahudheen says the exam papers have been prepared and sent for printing. “At our school, we will hold the exams over three days, starting January 9. The Education Department has asked all schools to finish the half-yearly exams by January 15.”

Just before the exams, Lakshadweep will cross another Rubicon. From December 28 to January 4, capital Kavaratti will host the Subroto Cup school football tournament. The stadiums are ready, to welcome back spectators.

Read more from The Indian Express series, ‘Silver Lining: A Yearbook’

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