As Delhi’s schools work towards reopening, focus on processing grief

Teaching-learning activities in schools have been on a halt since April, when an early summer vacation was declared.

Dealing with the grief and trauma of teachers and students due to Covid is among the top priorities before schools reopen in the capital, several administrators have said.

Teaching-learning activities in schools have been on a halt since April, when an early summer vacation was declared. Since then, with the deadly second wave of Covid hitting the city, government school teachers were almost entirely diverted to Covid-related duties — at vaccination centres, airports, ration distribution centres, dispensaries and oxygen centres.

“In our school, we lost a former colleague; a teacher lost both her parents; another was struggling with treatment for her father. Teachers have a lot of work right now. They have duties at school vaccination centres; admissions are ongoing; exam results are being prepared; and now we are going to start the new academic year. Teachers began returning to school with 50% capacity earlier this month, and before that we held a few informal meetings just to talk. We ask about everyone’s well-being, so that we can do our best to be accommodating and flexible. A few teachers are pregnant, and we have asked them not to report physically to school,” said the vice-principal of a school.

At the same school, they have identified nine children who have lost their parents to Covid. Teachers are counselling them.

Starting Monday, these schools were to begin tracing and getting back in touch with their students. In the next four weeks, they are to counsel and revisit foundational learnings of their students. Teachers are, meanwhile, being prepared with sessions to process their grief.

An education department circular introducing ‘well-being conversations’ among teachers read: “Under these circumstances, it is possible that our teachers and students too have faced deep trauma. It is necessary that teachers and students are given time to share their grief and pain, and reconnect with each other before moving on to doing regular work… Our teachers must start reconnecting with their students as soon as possible. Before that, they need to be prepared to not just overcome their own grief and stress due to very difficult last few months, but also be emotionally ready to support students in similar circumstances. Hence, it is important that teachers are supported and enabled to prepare themselves to counsel their students, support them if they are facing any challenge, and help them to come to a stage where they are ready to resume teaching-learning activities.”

The SCERT has engaged counsellors from ‘Children First’ to work with mentor teachers “to help them process their emotions and provide a space for engaging with their peers”.

These mentor teachers, who are assigned to a set of schools, will conduct similar workshops with teacher development coordinators and ‘happiness curriculum’ coordinators in schools, who will in turn conduct sessions with all teachers there.

At the same time, schools are finding their own ways of helping students. “Through conversations with our students, we have found that 10 sets of siblings — 22 students — have lost their fathers in the second wave. The brother of our vice-principal has been giving them Rs 5,000 per month since May and has said he’ll continue for two years. We have also sensitised our teachers on how to speak to students on the phone, asking them how they are and consoling them,” said Awadhesh Jha, head of a government school in Rohini.

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