Close schools immediately, demand parents and environmentalists as Delhi’s air quality turns ‘severe’

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) too has asked the Delhi government to shut schools till air quality in the national capital improves
Image for representation purpose only | Pic: EdexLive
Image for representation purpose only | Pic: EdexLive

Five hundred. That is the Air Quality Index (AQI) (which measures the level of air pollution) of Delhi as of 3 PM today, November 3. As Delhi continues to breathe this toxic air, parents and environmentalists have demanded the state government to shut schools immediately.

Children are reporting acute health problems, especially those who struggle with asthma and other allergies, said Aparajita Gautam from the Delhi Parents' Association. “Healthy kids are also getting affected. It is not safe for our kids to step out of their homes right now. We urge the government to shut schools and switch to online mode of teaching,” she said.

Air Quality

An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered good, between 51 and 100 is considered satisfactory, between 101 and 200 is considered moderate, between 201 and 300 is considered poor, between 301 and 400 is considered very poor, and between 401 and 500 is considered severe, as stated in a report by IANS.

However, the AQI of Delhi's neighbouring city of Noida stood at 498, under the "severe" category with PM 2.5 concentration at 498 and PM 10 concentration at 397 under "very poor" category, while Gurugram's AQI was reported at 393 under the "very poor" category with PM 2.5 concentration at 393 and PM 10 concentration at 327 under the "very poor" category. The severe category of air quality calls for health warnings of emergency conditions and even serious risk of respiratory effects on the general public, the report stated.

“Last and only defence”

Parents said that there has been no permanent solution to this problem which has been happening for many years now. Last year too the Delhi Government had ordered schools shut in November owing to the rise in air pollution levels in the city. “If this happened last year, then why can’t schools be shut again? The health issues that are reported as a consequence of the pollution will affect a child’s ability to study as well,” said Aparajita.

In fact, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has also asked the Delhi government to shut schools till air quality in the national capital improves, as stated in a report by PTI. The apex child rights body said it had taken a serious view of the matter and expressed concern over the 'severe' air quality impacting the health of children. NCPCR Chairperson Priyank Kanoongo has written to the Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar and strongly recommended considering appropriate action. He has urged the Delhi government to consider shutting schools in the interest of the children till air quality in the national capital improves, as per PTI.

While environmentalists concur that the right of a child to learn cannot be disrupted, they say that closure of schools is the “last and only defence” right now. “Closing schools is a preventive measure, although not a corrective one. It is not what ideally one should advocate for but it will reduce children’s vulnerability to pollution,” said Vimlendu Jha, an environmentalist. He stated that while healthy people are reporting pulmonary and respiratory problems, children are at a higher risk for these health issues. “It is frustrating and a helpless situation that no concrete action is being taken on the ground,” he added.

The state government had earlier appealed to people to work from home to reduce vehicular pollution. In addition, it has also suggested the use of shared transport, according to reports. However, the Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas has so far not recommended the closure of educational institutions and has ordered the implementation of measures such as enforcing strict ban on construction and demolition activities and daily water sprinkling amongst others, as per a notice dated October 29, 2022.

Parents say that while they have written multiple letters to the state government in the past few years demanding closure of schools, they have not done the same this time. “We want a solution now. It is a joint effort but the government should take small steps throughout the year if they knew that the situation would get bad during these months,” said Aparajita.

The fear of more learning loss

Education experts, however, fear loss of learning as a result of closure of schools. “Despite the reason, the continuous learning process should not be stopped. The government instead should take appropriate measures such as changing school timings to address the issue,” said Shashi Kumar, an education expert. On switching to online modes of learning for the time being, he said that it cannot be a supplement to actual learning. “If there is no other alternative, then schools can switch to online mode for a while,” he added.

Meanwhile, netizens continue to take to Twitter to demand schools be shut in the city as air pollution worsens. “Shut the schools please. Our kids are going into gas chambers everyday and schools cite awaiting your orders to shut for few days,” said Shivani Sharma, a parent, on Twitter.

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