August 28th, 2020

                                         By Ahmad Saeed 


LAHORE;

Despite an ongoing discussion about the reopening of schools now that the pandemic seems to be waning, government officials have still not been able to confirm an exact date for when students will go back to their classes.

An interview with Murad Raas, the Education Minister of Punjab, indicates that schools might open on September 15 with strict preventive measures like conducting classes in two shifts or limiting the school week to three days to reduce the number of students on campus at one time.

But so far no official decision has been taken. It is expected that a final decision will be taken after a joint meeting of all provincial education ministers, on September 7.

On the other hand, health officials have advised the government not to open primary schools under any circumstances because children under Grade 5 are too young to understand and follow SOPs.

“We will make sure that all schools strictly enforce SOPs on their campuses. Children should be kept at a safe distance from each other, and no one should be allowed to enter the school premise without masks. All school buildings must be regularly sanitized,” said Murad Raas while discussing the mandatory standard operating procedures (SOPs) for schools.
Raas also indicated that schools may even open in phases.

“In the first phase classes for grades 6 and above will be allowed,” he said. “Classes for younger students will soon follow suit,” he said.

Murad Raas also clarified that the “phase-wise” reopening of schools does not mean that there will be a gap of months between the first and the second phase rather it will be a matter of weeks.

According to Kashif Mirza, president of the Private School’s Association, most of the private schools in smaller cities and rural areas have been open since August and are already taking measures to ensure the safety of their students.

“Private schools have both the capacity and will to strictly impose SOPs on their schools,” he said. “We have masks and sanitizers but testing the entire faculty is almost impossible. There are approximately 2.5 million school teachers in Pakistan, how will the government manage to test them all?”

To this, Raas says that testing every teacher was not a policy, but just a suggestion.
Mirza adds that private schools are better equipped to deal with the pandemic than their
public counterparts, a claim which Murad Raas vehemently denies. “Public Schools are under the direct supervision of the government so we will make sure that all SOPs are strictly followed,” says Murad Raas.

Kashif Ismail, the focal person of the Parents’ Action Committee, an organization comprising of parents of school-going children, says that parents support the reopening of schools but the government must ensure strict compliance with the SOPs.

“Our children have not been to school in the last five to six months which is harming their education,” says a worried Kashif.

After the initial spread of the coronavirus, schools were shut down worldwide but now many countries have resumed classes. Pakistan should try to learn from successful examples of countries like New Zealand, South Korea, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.