September 7th, 2020

Bureau Report


LAHORE

Universities and schools will reopen across the country in a phased manner from September 15, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood announced in a press conference on Monday.

He was speaking to reporters alongside Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan after chairing the inter-provincial education ministers meeting in Islamabad. He said all educational institutions would reopen in phases, adding that in the first phase universities, colleges, and high schools consisting of the ninth, tenth, eleven, and twelfth classes, would reopen on September 15. 

The authorities will monitor cases of COVID for any surge after the reopening of higher education institutions. The situation will be reviewed after seven days of the opening of higher educational institutions.

“If the COVID situation remains satisfactory, secondary schools from class eight to six will be given permission to reopen from September 23.”

There are seven million students in institutions of higher learning while there are 6.4 million students in class six to eight in the country. A second review will be done after a week of secondary schools’ reopening. If the situation is satisfactory, then all primary schools consisting of the nursery to Class five in the country will be allowed to open their doors to students on September 30, the federal minister said.

In short, all educational institutions will open within 15 days from September 15, he added.

Madrassas, vocational schools to follow the same SOPs

The minister clarified that educational institutions included madrassas and vocational institutions as per the schedule and the SOPs/guidelines institutions will apply to them too. He warned that authorities could take action against institutions for violating the SOPs. He urged parents of students to cooperate with teachers and school administrations to help ensure the implementation of the guidelines laid out for the reopening of institutions.

Decision on varsity exams

Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood hoped that the students and teachers would try to bridge the gap of loss of learning in the coming months. He pointed out that certain aspects including the postponement of university examinations and shortening of academic courses were still in consideration. The announcement on these aspects will be made as the country moved ahead with the reopening of the educational institutions.

SOPs for education institutions 

Dr. Faisal Sultan said the health ministry has placed Health Guidelines for Education Institutions Reopening during COVID 19 Pandemic on its website.

There was much debate in the country and globally around the ages of students and sequence of institutions, he explained. After reviewing and consultations, the government decided to open higher educational institutions first.

Outlining the basic features of the guidelines, he said density was the most important element that needed to be reduced in institutions. “This means if there are 40 students in the class, the number should be reduced to half to allow proper social distancing essential to stop the spread of the virus.”

The schools could do that by dividing students into sets that come to classrooms on alternate days.

He said wearing masks by students was the most important element of the guidelines. “Surgical masks are not essential. Parents can provide their children with cloth masks that can be washed daily.”

He added parents and students should adopt self-screening so that anyone who was sick should not come to institutions to prevent the spread of the disease. The institutions have also been directed to ensure screening for students with fever from entering the institutions.

He also emphasized the importance of handwashing and the use of sanitizers

Apart from all the above precautions, the health ministry will not lower its guard, the PM’s aide said. “There will be a sentinel screening in institutions after two weeks or two of the reopening to gauge any surge in COVID among the students,” he explained. The results from the sentinel monitoring would assist in making informed decisions.

The ministry has placed 27-page guidelines on its website. The guidelines suggest dividing classes into 4 hours shift of students twice a day; alternative days attendance and utilizing weekends for some of the shifts.

According to the guidelines, the district education authorities with the support of the district health department and district administration were required to conduct visits of school once a month for monitoring the adherence of the SOPs including social distancing, adherence to face masks, WASH facilities, and preventing gatherings/crowding.

In the case of one COVID 19 positive case identified in a class, the class was proposed to be closed for a minimum of 5 days with suggested procedures of disinfection to be done on the premises. All fellow students and staff members of the class were to be self-quarantined for 14 days.

SOPs for Punjab schools

According to a notification issued by the Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare, all indoor games, swings, slides, and other sports activities are banned in educational institutions. There will be no seminars, speech competitions, [outdoor] sports and tournaments. It also states that all the people will have to wear face masks and morning assemblies are also banned. Vans [meant for pick and drop] will leave 50 percent of seats vacant in order to maintain social distancing. Only 30pc of students will be allowed to reside in hostels.

Explaining social distancing measures, Murad Raas said all public and private schools will limit daily attendance to only 50 percent of their enrolled students. The other 50 percent of students will come to school the next day as the first batch of 50 percent takes off. He clarified that schools will not be allowed operation of double-shift on a single day.

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