By next Monday, thousands of Class X and XII students across the country will reside and study in their schools as they prepare for the board examinations. To ensure that the examinations – a future deciding factor for students – are held as scheduled from February 14 to 28, the education ministry decided to go ahead with the examinations.

There are concerns. Apart from the inconveniences or the worry of good food and accommodation, a valid concern is the virus. With what happened at the Punatsangchhu 2 project fresh in our minds, the concern is if the virus could be contained in schools operating in a containment mode.

Driven by priorities, working in containment mode and letting big projects quarantine centres were allowed. The Punatsangchhu incident where a tanker driver had been alleged to have spread the virus is making people question the government’s decision. Class X and XII board examinations are important. There will be a ripple effect if the examinations are postponed or cannot be held. By February, thousands more students will be in Class X and XII. And like the prime minister said, there is no guarantee that the situation will improve.

The question is can we prevent an outbreak in schools functioning in a containment mode? Given the nature of the virus, it takes one case to lockdown a country as the Omicron variant is highly infectious.  Will those managing schools even with the help of frontliners be able to prevent that? From the Punatsangchhu experience, there is a lot to do.

Another valid concern is preparing students for the examinations. With students put through numerous protocols, it would hamper their preparations. Conducting the board examination is not the end of all means. Students, especially Class XII students, should be able to prepare well for the examination. The Class XII examination decides the future of many students. Whether they go to win a government scholarship to study medicine or engineering or drop out of school is decided after the Class XII examination.

School management, particularly day schools will be overwhelmed having to host hundreds of students. Some private schools, with only a handful of students, are in a better position. Government boarding schools are prepared and briefed about the worst-case situations long before this lockdown.

Having protocols in place alone, we learnt, is not enough. Letting a project import foreign workers so that it meets the deadline has cost thousands other businesses big and small. The private sector, especially the construction and mining sector, are the worst affected and are questioning government decisions. The Rurichhu quarantine centre, those who spent time there say is no better than a prison making it vulnerable for breaching or jumping quarantine. If schools in containment mode are not student-friendly or do not provide a conducive environment for preparation, it could leave room for lapses.

On the positive side, it is an opportunity for parents to help schools and their children make the month-long studying in containment a wonderful experience. Sharing the burden to feed and make students comfortable is one. Students will be able to concentrate on their preparation without having to complain of food, hygiene or comfort if parents can share the burden.