A security guard tells students that their school is closed by authorities to control possible spread of coronavirus, in Lahore, Pakistan, Saturday, March 14, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary) — Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Schools are scheduled to reopen in July. But how are we going to make this safe?

Longer term strategies for schools to implement will become the need of the hour.

Updated May 22, 2020 11:05am

In Pakistan, at the time of writing this article, the number of Corona positive cases has crossed 43,000. Our response to this pandemic has been a combination of a traditional and partial lockdown. One of the earliest responses by the government was to declare the closure of schools, a measure which is officially scheduled to last until July 15.

The closure has resulted in the disruption and displacement of education for over 1.5 billion children worldwide. In Pakistan's case, we face additional risks when it comes to preserving recent gains made in education-related opportunities, especially for students who come from vulnerable families.

However, around the globe schools are now slowly gearing up to re-open and resume activities. This article will explore the facets which can promote the well-being of children keeping in context Covid-19 and schools' closure.

Also read | The Analytical Angle: Covid-19 and the looming education crisis

The first part of our national challenge is to not only prepare our schools for re-opening to the best of our abilities but to also comprehend why schools resuming education is important for a country like ours. The reasons why education should not be disrupted, but rather enhanced in the wake of these times is because Pakistan already has a high primary and secondary school dropout rate, and surveys indicate that if education is disrupted, it may become five times more likely that children will not go back to school. This in itself is problematic, as young adults and children contribute largely to our demographic and lie in the pyramid of productivity.

Pakistan has also seen a surge of reports in child abuse cases in recent months, and schools offer not just education but a safe haven for emotional, mental, and cognitive development. Children that are enrolled in schools which cater to these needs can receive healthcare, counselling and support from their institutions. If the gap becomes too wide for children to receive these essential services, the complications arising from that could get too big and too difficult to address in an efficient manner. The most important factor however still remains that not all children in Pakistan can reap the benefits of alternative methods of education such as distance learning, since 63% of our population resides in the rural setting and only 28% have access to the internet for such facilities. Statistics such as these cannot significantly improve in such testing times, however we can still attempt to improve and amend existing facilities.

More on this: Decision-making on education around Covid-19 should ensure equity, fairness and continuity

The Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training has issued its Pakistan National Education Response and Resilience Plan (K-12) for Covid-19 which is a guidance for schools on how to mitigate and prepare for re-opening. However, as doctors and professionals we have taken this framework and devised a guide to help educational institutes implement changes practically and prepare for re-opening.

In order to make a policy which is universal in the context of our schools, our work here must start with three processes: Prior to reopening (this is the planning and preparedness phase), part in reopening (which constitutes getting to school and its daily operations), and lastly in parallel with school operations, which should entail implementation of health programmes including a portion of mental health policies.

The policy becomes easier to implement once it is divided into a number of practical steps that schools can employ by planning and preparing before re-opening.

Read further: Covid-19 — A wakeup call for higher education

The first step in preparation involves sanitation, hygiene, and physical distancing measures, which can be taken by schools. The summary of these steps are included below.

The most critical area in all of this is effective but safe management of daily operations. On a school day, the most important step is how to enable children to enter the school without affecting distancing protocols.

Following the protocols for community transmission is also essential.

Longer term strategies for schools to implement will become the need of the hour as the situation changes and the recommended global strategy is to consider a school health programme which would include regular health screenings for students and extended medical support for students, parents and faculty through an on-campus school nurse.

A solution to such a novel problem can never exist without its challenges. Yet, these steps if taken by schools will ensure a relative measure of safety towards the final outcome of this pandemic.

To get a copy of the practical guide "Preparedness and Response for School Reopening Amidst Covid-19 in Pakistan", you can contact the writer on talaiha.chughtai@fivehealth.org


Author Image

Talaiha Chughtai is a Pediatrician and a public health professional working on interventions which promote preventive care with enhancement of primary care for children. She tweets @TalaihaChughtai

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (25) Closed

May 21, 2020 09:56am
Kids are not safe at homes too because: 1. Their family members are going out and can bring back the virus 2. Kids are going out to play, buy things at local shops etc Schools should open with SOPs so that kids can continue with their education because online education does not work in Pakistan
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Asma Moeen
May 21, 2020 10:04am
Lack of discipline seems to be an inherent human quality and this has only been highlighted during the current crisis. Our nation’s resolve to overcome a crisis during discipline and strict adherence to guidelines has been poor at best. One only needs to look at the recent Eid shopping rush to realise where our priorities lie. Your suggestions are valid in theory but I doubt they can be practically implanted given our poor record of following rules. Secondly, children have poor reflexes. As a parent, I am able to keep a close eye on my children to ensure they are washing and sanitising hands and not touching their face. Teachers will be unable to keep the same level of vigilance among a group of children. I understand the need to get our children’s education back on track but health is paramount. Even if schools reopen, I doubt I will be sending mine until there is a breakthrough in successfully preventing and treating Covid.
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Syed A. Mateen
May 21, 2020 11:15am
The schools after Covid-19 should be surveyed throughly to ascertain size of each class rooms and how many children can sit in one class room to determine if social distancing can be maintained between the children who use to sit in class rooms side by side before Covid-19. The govt. run schools normally have big buildings so it should not be a problem for managements of govt. run schools to utilize any rooms lying vacant, but the actual problem will be with private schools who are running in rented buildings having smaller rooms to accommodate more children in one class rooms. All schools must employ professional doctors, nurses and other paramedic staff, in addition to an ambulance stationed in school buildings so that in case of an emergency, affected student should be taken to a nearby hospital. It seems to be a difficult task for teachers to ask children to wear face masks during school timings while sitting in classrooms, during the recess and after school timings are over.
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May 21, 2020 12:17pm
First experience senior schools and provide best training to the students. Then the junior schools.It is the best way to step a head.
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May 21, 2020 01:02pm
They won't open.
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May 21, 2020 10:10pm
Wonderful source
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May 21, 2020 10:22pm
In Europe schools have opened but with caution, training students systematically, such as washing hands at the entrance and keeping safe distance.
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May 22, 2020 02:03am
Good suggestion for reopening the school
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May 22, 2020 02:11am
Good suggestion for reopening the school because every student can not afford online education. Thanks for a good suggestion. I want to reopen the school
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May 22, 2020 02:14am
Though i do want our schools and colleges to reopen but one can already fear that we will be overlooking the kind of precautions prescribed by the writer. Kindly guide, train the teaching staff before allowing kids to return to their studies.
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May 22, 2020 02:17am
And please reduce both the syllabus and the number of classes in order to mitigate the risk. Only allowing half number of classes/students in the beginning should be modus operandi for some time.
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May 22, 2020 02:37am
This idea is absolutely absurd in our country no single school can manage it it's impossible to keep child distant from other mates idea should be resolved no cautious parent will send his child in this risk when cases are increasing
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May 22, 2020 07:23am
Good Suggestions nonetheless in order to implement this plan we need a huge financial assistance as we are talking about sanitising, disinfecting, providing masks and dustbins to thousands of schools all over Pakistan.
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May 22, 2020 09:33am
Good suggestions. One thing is missed here I.e. guidelines for school vans and buses in which children travel. It is mostly seen that school vans are fully packed and SOPs must be followed for school transport system.
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Khalid sheikh
May 22, 2020 10:58am
Good advice but I fear private will not comply with thease sop,s
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May 22, 2020 01:17pm
First see the trends of virus spread in the last week of June or first week of July- then decide it: And ,if any person is thinking social distancing or other guidelines will be practiced in schools or colleges,he is living in some utopia. Private schools owners are more interested in making money than caring about the health and life of kids/students. Even in the start days of arrival of virus in Karachi they were not taking the virus seriously and were not closing schools . So, Education dept must think 100 times before allowing opening of the schools/colleges early. See the virus trends first.
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May 22, 2020 03:11pm
The teachers and schools haven't been executing their primary duties correctly. i don't trust them to work with additional burden.
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Mansoor Ali
May 22, 2020 05:32pm
Good suggestions but only if implementable. Just take the social distancing idea alone for starters. How many schools do you know that can physically accommodate all its existing existing pupils while maintaining a one meter separation. From my experience - NONE. Not even the best and well funded of institutions. They wont have the physical room on their premises to do so. Also, how do you know that the students/teachers coming in to school are not infected and so pose no risk to others? I can understand the anxieties and frustrations of parents, but I do not see any option to on-line teaching until we have a vaccine or treatment. Of course, we can take a cold blooded decision to let the chips (and lives) fall where they will. We may well come to that eventually, if no solution emerges in the medium to long term, but I (and hopefully society at large) am not there yet.
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May 22, 2020 07:57pm
When shops, shrines, mosques and processions are all open, what's the point of keeping schools closed or worrying about their safety? The country has abandoned any notion of safety already.
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May 22, 2020 08:58pm
It is suggested to organize classes with 50% & 50% groups in alternate days. Like if School have 1000 students, call 500 on Monday, Wednesday & Friday. Then remaining 500 on Tuesday & Thursday. Again, the same group can be reversed. So, the total class attended by students 10 days a month.
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May 22, 2020 10:31pm
It is impossible at least for public sector schools and colleges to take these measures. From my firsthand experience, I can tell this will not happen. If schools open, children will get infected.
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May 23, 2020 12:29am
I think only grade 5 and above should start school with distancing and on alternate days not more than 15 students in a class.younger children can't keep the distance they dont follow the sops niether teachers but v difficult situation... most of the ppl dont believe in this virus so not possible for implementing sops in schools
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Erum Aziz
May 23, 2020 02:25am
@Ishaan, they can they are civilized but we aren't
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May 23, 2020 02:42am
If a class have 60 students then it should be divided into 3 groups. Group A-20 students must attend schools for 2 days in a week same for Group B and Group C. It will allow the management to keep the distancing arrangements within classes. Also, class time must be adjusted so all subjects can be taught within 2 days time of each group. Masks and PPE should be considered as mandatory and must be arranged by the schools for their students. Schools must actively arrange sessions for students and inform them how to live in post-corona world, how to do a routine work by keeping a best safety measures.
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Tahir Syed
May 23, 2020 07:53am
They should be provided online video training about the precautions and provide them mask & gloves with sanitizer before school open.
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