College staff place a handwashing station at the entrance of IMCG F-6/2 in Islamabad on Monday. Educational institutions reopen today (Sept 15), nearly six months after being closed due to the spread of Covid-19. — Photo by Mohammad Asim
College staff place a handwashing station at the entrance of IMCG F-6/2 in Islamabad on Monday. Educational institutions reopen today (Sept 15), nearly six months after being closed due to the spread of Covid-19. — Photo by Mohammad Asim

ISLAMABAD: The government has made it compulsory for educational institutions to attain a minimum of seven points it has devised with regards to implementing standard operating procedures (SOPs) against Covid-19 if they want to remain open.

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said he would personally keep a check on Islamabad-based schools and colleges to ensure SOPs were enforced.

“I will visit institutions on Tuesday to see the arrangements made by educational institutions,” the minister told Dawn.

He asked schools’ managements, teachers, students and parents to cooperate with each other in implementation of the SOPs as the education system should move forward smoothly.

In Islamabad, the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) supervises 423 public sector schools and colleges while the Private Educational Institution Regulatory Authority (Peira) is supposed to regulate private schools.

Two control rooms set up, one each at FDE and Peira, to ensure implementation of SOPs

Two control rooms have been set up, one each at the FDE and Peira, to ensure implementation of the SOPs in educational institutions.

According to a notification issued by Peira on September 11, schools are supposed to get minimum seven scores out of 10 for continuing their operations with three scores for the mandatory face mask for staff and students, two for school screening thermal gun at the entrance, 1.5 for hand washing and sanitising facilities, one for density management, 0.5 for ventilation, 0.5 for isolation rooms, 0.5 for cleanliness, 0.5 for SOPs displayed on the premises and 0.5 for duty roaster of staff on display. The letter said the minimum qualifying score for schools was seven.

“No person shall be allowed in school premises without wearing mask, including staff, students and managements.” It said entry and exit points at school would be managed to avoid queue formation while school staff and students would be screened with thermal guns at the entrance and ailing and sick staff or students should not be allowed to enter.

The letter said disinfection of students’ shoes and hands would be conducted at the school entrance while containers for hand sanitising would be installed at the entry and exit points.

Peira also directed schools that all possible areas of contact in classrooms, including tables and chairs, should be disinfected on a daily basis.

“There must be a proper seating arrangement in order; only a maximum of 10-15 students to be allowed in a classroom, keeping a distance of at least six feet.”

Regular breaks should be arranged for students to wash hands on an hourly basis after every class.

The letter said teachers should be sensitised about the health of students while students should be educated about contraction/transmission of Covid-19, importance of hand hygiene and minimum distance to be maintained.

There should be a ban on big gatherings such as sports matches, cultural events, and school timings should be three hours a day and only prioritised subjects such as Science, Mathematics and Computer Science should be taught. The educational institutions have the liberty to develop an alternate instructional day plan for each level or designation of specific school timing for each level, according to human and infrastructural resources available.

Peira also directed schools for management of syllabi in accordance with each institution’s instructional day plan.

The schools were also directed for accelerated learning strategies.

“The schools may manage their syllabi by adopting customised accelerated learning strategies such as condensing of curricula with increased focus on core subjects.”

Peira’s spokesperson Zafar Yousafzai said three monitoring teams have been constituted to keep a check on private schools.

Peira Chairperson Zia Batool is also holding the acting charge of the FDE director general.

Meanwhile, a group of parents have been running a campaign on social media, showing their apprehension that many schools after reopening could ask parents and students for specific masks and could also charge them for sanitisers.

“I fear, schools will start offering branded masks for students and they could also charge for sanitisers,” said Waseem Hussain, a parent.

Another parent, Hamid Khan, said: “We fear they will exploit the situation by forcing parents to deposit additional charges in the name of health safety, sanitisers etc.”

However, Abdul Waheed, a spokesperson for Private School Association, said schools would not collect any extra charge and were all set to open under strict SOPs.

When contacted, Peira Chairperson Zia Batool said once schools are opened, the authority will keep a check and no school would be allowed to collect any additional charges.

“Students can wear a simple cloth-made mask and Peira through its website will also direct the schools not to charge any fee in the name of health safety.”

She said random sampling of teachers and staff was being conducted in public and private schools.

“On a daily basis, almost 650 samples of teachers and staff are being collected from public and private schools. So far, only two positive cases have been reported in public schools,” she said, adding one positive case was also reported in the FDE and the building was disinfected on Sunday.

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2020