ISLAMABAD: All educational institutions in the country will be reopened on September 15 provided the Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control by then, announced the federal education minister on Thursday.

Speaking at a press conference, Shafqat Mahmood said that although all educational institutions, including universities, were slated to be reopened on Sept 15, the final decision in this regard would be taken once the relevant health indicators were reviewed twice.

“If the situation does not improve by then we will not allow the reopening of institutions,” he said, adding that the country’s education ministers would hold meetings in this regard before the deadline.

As per an earlier decision, the educational institutions, which were closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, were supposed to reopen on July 15. However, in view of the surge in new infections the government has now decided to keep them closed at least until Sept 14.

Mr Mahmood said the educational institutions would be reopened under strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which would be mandatory. The institutions that would violate them would be closed down immediately.

Mahmood says decision conditional upon improvement in situation

The federal minister, who presided over a conference of education ministers on Wednesday and attended a meeting of the National Command and Operations Centre on Thursday, told journalists that at the ministerial conference various proposals were discussed, such as opening schools for junior and senior classes on alternate days and allowing shifts for junior and senior classes.

A final decision regarding the SOPs to be adopted would be made before Sept 15, Mr Mahmood said.

He said the universities had been granted permission to provide access to their PhD and other scholars to research laboratories and other such centres. Students and research scholars who did not have access to reliable internet services were facing problems in learning through online resources.

The universities, he said, had been given permission to accommodate such students in their hostels from next month. However, the hostel occupancy should not exceed 30 per cent of total capacity.

He said that professional bodies, such as those relating to medicine and engineering, could conduct entry tests under proper SOPs, adding that other testing bodies like the Federal Public Service Commission and Provincial Services Commissions could hold entry tests that should be concluded within a few days.

The minister said these mandatory tests should be staggered in order to curb the spread of coronavirus.

He said that educational institutions could now call their teaching and non-teaching staff to work.

Talking about the students of religious seminaries, Mr Mahmood said that madressahs had been granted permission to hold their exams under strict SOPs. Like the educational institutions, other training institutions that impart classroom-based training would be opened from Sept 15.

He said that provincial governments had been asked to carefully draft SOPs, which would be deliberated upon by the federal education ministry with the consent of the provinces, before the reopening of the institutions.

Once finalised, the federal and provincial governments would ensure strict implementation of the SOPs in all educational institutions, he added.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2020