New seating matrix, staggered classes, different mess and library rules, revamped hostels and canteens, could be part of students' socially distant lives in schools and colleges when they return, with the HRD Ministry forming safety guidelines to be followed whenever classroom learning is resumed.
Universities and schools across the country have been closed since March 16 when the central government announced a countrywide classroom shutdown as one of the measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Later, a nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, which was extended till May 3.
According to HRD Ministry officials, whenever schools and colleges reopen, proper social distancing norms will have to be followed as health and safety of students has to be the priority.
The guidelines are being formed by the Ministry's Department of School Education and Literacy for schools and by the University Grants Commission (UGC) for universities and higher education institutions.
While the UGC, has already recommended that academic session for freshers may begin in September and for enrolled students in August, schools are also doing teaching learning activities through different virtual mediums.
"The guidelines will include a checklist and recommended measures to ensure student and staff safety. However, the COVID-19 situation in a particular area will also be have to kept in mind and the institutions will have flexibility to adapt to the guidelines accordingly. The minister has reiterated many times that the safety and health of students has to be prioritised," a senior official told news agency PTI.
"The guidelines are being formed and will also be shared with states so they can prepare accordingly before reopening schools and colleges. Districts will be tasked with the implementation of the guidelines and certain spaces in the campuses will have to be revamped to ensure social distancing," the official added.
HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank had also deliberated upon the issue of safety guidelines in a meeting with state education ministers last week.
For schools, suspension of morning assemblies and sports activities in the playground, norms for school buses, do''s and dont''s in washrooms and cafeterias and regular disinfection of entire buildings, could be part of the guidelines and masks will be mandatory part of school uniforms. For residential schools, guidelines will detail social distancing norms to be followed in mess and hostels.
Several Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) are also working on chalking out ways for students to follow social distancing, including restricting entry of visitors, classes in shifts and staggered laboratory timings.
As per UGC recommendations, semester exams can be conducted in July either online or offline.
"So, far the exams happening online, the safety guidelines will have to be followed and same will apply to conduct of competitive examinations," the official said.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has reiterated that it will conduct pending class 10 and 12 board exams in 29 subjects but has not announced the schedule yet.
The death toll due to the novel coronavirus pandemic rose to 1,147 with 72 more fatalities and the number of cases climbed to 35,043 in the country on Friday, the Union Health Ministry said.
The active COVID-19 cases stands at 25,007, while 8,888 people have recovered, and one patient has migrated. The total number of 35,043 cases includes 111 foreign nationals, according to ministry data updated in the morning.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)