For more than 250 million school-going children in India, schools have remained mostly shut for the past 16 months. This extended closure is causing and has already caused immense harm to our children, especially in the early years..Until recently, there was no real focus on school closures in India. Dharini Mathur and Tanya Aggarwal, two lawyers and mothers of young children, explain the motivations behind the July 12 panel discussion..Speaking to Bar & Bench about the idea and what followed next, Tanya said -."We are part of a University alumni WhatsApp group, from where we discovered we had several things in common - National Law School of India University (Bengaluru), Harvard Law School and most important, young children in the same school. We often spoke about our kids not being able to keep up, balancing work commitments with home-schooling, and behavioural changes in our kids. We also tried to help those around us by providing devices and funding education.”.The discussion is being organised by Teach for India, Akanksha Foundation, the Harvard Law School Women’s Alliance (India Chapter), IDIA and the Central Square Foundation. .Dharini, who has witnessed real struggles associated with online learning in her capacity as an Advisor to IDIA, a not for profit focussed on diversity in legal education and the legal profession, said, “In February this year, we realised that schools had been closed for almost a year, and that is when it really hit us hard. It was becoming increasingly clear that prolonged school closures would have a significant impact on our future generations and would undo whatever progress had been made to educate India’s children. Discussions and strategizing took time, and before any concrete action could be taken, the second COVID wave hit.”.In February this year, we realised that schools had been closed for almost a year.Says Tanya, “My family was lucky to survive severe COVID, which we got despite all possible precautions. Even so, I think we must inform ourselves and follow the science, which indicates that severe disease in children is rare, and children are in any event exposed because the economy is opened every time a wave recedes - adults can bring home infections too. We realised that in many other countries, the demand to reopen schools was driven by parents, including because they had to go to work..We realised that in many other countries, the demand to reopen schools was driven by parents, including because they had to go to work.While India has unique cultural aspects, availability of childcare is not a given, particularly in lower income households where working from home is not an option. For example, what about a nanny with kids of her own with no support? We’ve seen lower income households where care of young children is entrusted to older kids while the adults go to work, as a result of which the older kids can’t focus on online school. Even parents like us who are working from home and have grandparental support, may want an option to send our young children back to school. Indian schools have opened, if at all, only for older kids but our younger kids are being deprived of essential social development in these crucial early years, which can come only through peer interaction. We can help our children overcome academic losses but there are millions out there who cannot do this at home.”.Dharini adds, “We thought of organising a symposium to enable informed decision-making. This coincided with an editorial by Shaheen Mistri and Dr. Mahesh Balsekar in the Times of India. We contacted Shaheen and the team at Teach for India, and the panel became a reality. The aim is to hear from students, understand parents’ concerns, and hear from health and education experts on how these concerns can be addressed..We are not saying schools should be opened tomorrow. Formulating a robust policy to open schools will require consultation with relevant stakeholders and experts, and it is time we got started, say both the lawyer mothers. .The discussion will feature the following panellists:- Dr. Mahesh Balsekar, Senior Consultant, SRCC Children’s Hospital- Kiran Bhatty, Senior Visiting Fellow, Centre for Policy Research- Rekha Krishnan, Principal, Vasant Valley School- Simran Khara, Parent and start-up founder- Prashant Dodke, Parent and social worker, The Akanksha Foundation- Helan Elizabeth, Class XII Student, IDIA Trainee- Rohan Jagadeesan, Class X Student.The panel discussion will be moderated by Tara Sharma Saluja (Actor, entrepreneur, parent) and Priyanka Patil (Fellow, TFI). .Watch the panel discussion live on 12 July at 6 pm..The discussion aims to bring together parents, governments, schools, and experts (educators, public policy, and health) to better understand the impact of school closures, weigh the pros and cons of closing or reopening and draw from experiences elsewhere. The ultimate objective is to motivate governments to frame the right policies.