Published: 29th August 2020
Will the outdoors save students from the Coronavirus?
In the context of the pandemic that has plagued not just us but the whole world, how will the classrooms in schools, when they open, look like? How does open-air teaching sound like to you?
“Living indoors without fresh air quickly poisons the blood and makes people
feel tired and seedy when they don’t know why.”
– Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941), founder and Chief Scout of the world-wide Scout movement
According to a report from Washington by Philip Marcelo of the Associated Press, “School districts developing their plans for reopening for the new academic year should find ways to offer as many outdoor activities as possible, from classes to recess and lunchtime”, America’s top infectious disease expert recommended in an online discussion on August 13. Dr.Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also suggested on Facebook that on school buses, windows should remain open and students wear their masks as much as possible. Incidentally, readers who monitor international news, as I do, would recall that Fauci has, many times, found himself at odds with President Donald Trump’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic, including Trump’s aversion to wearing, or promoting, face-masks.
Coming to the Indian scene, open-air teaching was central to India’s ancient Gurukul system. The only major and famous case of open-air teaching in modern times is Santiniketan, associated with Rabindranath Tagore. The roots of Santiniketan go back to 1863 when Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranth, was given a tract of land by a zamindar and he set up an ashram at the spot that later came to be called chatim tala. The ashram was later renamed Brahmacharya Vidyalaya. Rabindranath established a co-educational school inside the premises of the ashram. He believed in open air education and had reservations about any teaching done within four walls. This was due to his belief that walls represent conditioning of the mind.
The age of Zamindars and free and easy availability of virgin land is a dream of the past. Today, land is precious and rarely available in large parcels, especially in large cities where educational institutions, specially corporate-types, are clustered. That is why school buildings in urban settings have gone vertical and in many cases there is not enough space for playgrounds and outdoor activities as per official norms. Maybe this is a pessimistic view. As they say, where there is a will there is a way. And, money talks.