Schools should reopen in September, education ministers decide

Updated 09 Jul 2020

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A security guard tells students that their school is closed by authorities to control possible spread of coronavirus, in Lahore on March 14, 2020. — AP/File
A security guard tells students that their school is closed by authorities to control possible spread of coronavirus, in Lahore on March 14, 2020. — AP/File

ISLAMABAD: Schools should be reopened in September subject to approval from the National Coordination Committee (NCC), provincial education ministers said on Wednesday.

It was decided during the interprovincial education ministers’ virtual conference that educational institutions will be opened in the first week of September, provided there is permission from the Ministry of National Health Services and approval from the NCC, which had previously decided to keep schools closed until July 15.

Sources said that various proposals were discussed to extend the closure of schools or reopen from July 16.

After a detailed discussion, the participants decided that institutions should stay closed until the first week of September and reopened after the coronavirus situation has been reviewed under standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The sources said that while discussing examinations of professional groups, such as medical and engineering entry tests and religious boards’ exams, the participants proposed that they be held with special arrangements such as keeping six feet of distance between all individuals and requiring that people wear masks and gloves.

Meeting considers allowing professional tests, seminary board exams under SOPs

“Two major policy decisions were taken today. First, the participants of the meeting recommended extending the closure of institutions until the first week of September. Secondly, the meeting also showed willingness to allow professional exams to be conducted under strict SOPs,” a source said.

He said both proposals will be placed before a committee headed by Planning Minister Asad Umar, and then before the NCC.

The source said there should be no confusion regarding annual exams for grades nine, 10, 11 and 12.

“The previous decision to promote students without exams is intact. Today’s decision was taken regarding professional tests and exams and exams of seminary students only,” he added.

Many private schools have been seeking permission to reopen, while parents of students have opposed the opening of schools on July 16 due to the pandemic and the summer weather.

Hamid Khan, who represents a parents association group, said: “Not opening schools is a wise and good decision by the education ministers. I would say that if the risk factor continues, there is no need to open schools in September and focus should instead be paid to online classes.”

He said developed countries are focusing on online teaching until the coronavirus is controlled, and there should be no risk taken with opening schools as the current year is a year of survival.

“The second wave of Covid-19 has yet to begin,” he said.

Private schools, however, do not appear as pleased with this decision. Schools, who are charging 80pc of their usual fees despite institutions being closed, have said that their survival is at stake.

A press release issued by the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association in response to the meeting said: “The meeting of the ministers of education remained fruitless. Due to Covid-19 and lack of interest of the government many private educational institutions have been closed and more are on the way of closure. No relief package was announced for the private educational institutions and it has brought despondency in the whole private education sector.”

The association’s divisional president Abrar Ahmed Khan said that institutions are closing down because they are now receiving fees.

“[Private institutions] are having difficulty paying utility bills, salaries and building rents. If this situation continues, more than 60pc of schools will be closed,” he said.

He said the meeting should have discussed relief for private institutions and considered ways to help students continue to receive an education.

“Private school teachers need to be looked after, for small schools cannot pay salaries for an indefinite period as they are not receiving fees because parents find it very difficult paying fees when their children are not attending school,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2020