Death of Teachers: It’s Time We Treat Them As Frontline Workers

Recently, the principal of my mother’s college, where she is a lecturer, succumbed to COVID-19. As soon as I heard the news, it sent shivers down my spine. A day has passed since we lost her, but still, it is difficult to come to terms with this truth. She and my mother were close friends as they went to the same school in the Delhi Cantonment. Though I only had brief interactions with her every now and then, it was evident that she had an incredibly vibrant personality.

She was the acting principal of an intercollege here in my hometown and worked till the very end, my mother told me. She reached office with a nebuliser until she tested positive for COVID-19. However, it was too late by then – the virus had already spread to her lungs, as per the CT scan. She was last seen in school on April 21 when she reached to sign some important board papers, and that was the very evening she received her test results. She immediately isolated herself from her family, and didn’t allow anyone to come near her. In a few days, her health worsened, and she had to be admitted to a nearby hospital. Since her oxygen saturation levels were quite low, the doctors in the hospital put her on a ventilator in the ICU, and kept updating the family about her health.

Also read: A Teacher’s Daughter Breaks Down the Side-Effects of Online Teaching

Her eldest son was outside the hospital door throughout the treatment and was always available on call, regardless of the time of the day. Her youngest son is still in the US and hasn’t been able to come back to India due to travel restrictions. Even though the doctors tried every possible treatment, including plasma therapy and Remdesivir – which were not readily available – but nothing helped.

We ended up losing her yesterday at around 9 am. It was a heart-wrenching moment.

It should be noted that she, as a life-long teacher, diligently carried on with her duties for as long as she could. We, as society, owe a lot to our teachers and yet we fail them in so many ways. It was shocking to see the directive from the Supreme Court allowing the Uttar Pradesh’s state election commission to hold counting of votes for the state’s panchayat election even after many teachers boycotted the counting, citing the death of over 700 teachers who were on election duty for over a month

It seems the loss of so many teachers – who taught in schools in various towns and villages in the state – was not enough to postpone the counting despite the intensity of the second wave and despite the fact that counting takes place in crowded rooms with no scope for maintaining physical distancing.

There are also many teachers in various cities like Delhi and Mumbai who have been working at Covid call-centres, where they help those searching for healthcare resources. My father, who is 57-year-old with an underlying condition of diabetes and altered blood pressure, is working at one such call centre. In many cities, teachers have been put on mandatory duty at vaccination centres.

A lot of lives could have been saved if only the government had adhered to the earlier order of not appointing teachers above the age of 50 years for election duties. According to the ministry of health, 88% of all the lives lost in India due to COVID-19 are from the age group of 45 years and above. Before we lose more lives – like the hundreds of teachers who lost their lives because of UP panchayat poll duty – we need to implement a law which protects teachers above 45 from working in high-risk situations. It’s time we treat teachers as the frontline workers they are.

Prakhar Gahlot has graduated from Indian Institute for Science Education and Research (IISER), Mohali.

Featured image credit: Flickr/Ranjit Bhaskar