KARACHI: Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani announced on Friday that classes six to eight would not resume in schools from Sept 22 as planned earlier.

The Sindh education department has postponed the second phase of reopening of schools in the province by another week due to the rise of Covid-19 cases among the non-teaching staff in schools.

Speaking at a press conference here, Mr Ghani said that if the situation improved the second and third phase would commence together on Sept 28. However, classes nine to 12 will carry on.

He said that even though they understand the economic situation of private educational institutions and damage to children’s education, they could not compromise on their health.

He said that he had been going around visiting different educational institutions in various districts since Tuesday when schools reopened as per the first phase. “Unfortunately, both the public and private educational institutions here are not fully implementing SOPs [standard operating procedures],” he said.

Decision taken in view of rise in Covid-19 cases among schools’ non-teaching staff; private school owners slam move

He said that he had also seen private educational institutions calling back young children to school and that, too, without any protective gear, not even masks.

89 test positive in five days

Mr Ghani provided the example of four schools they had to seal a day earlier due to this issue. “Even today, the situation did not improve in private educational institutions. And I am talking about the ‘good educational institutions’ where there was no social distancing as well,” he said.

He said that they had started a series of coronavirus tests of the teaching and non-teaching staff in all private and government educational institutions.

Between Sept 12 and Sept 17, they conducted 14,544 tests and out of them so far they received the results of 3,636 tests of which 89 have been found to be Covid-19 positive.

Mr Ghani said that keeping in view these circumstances, the education department decided to postpone the second phase in which classes six to eight were to be reopened. They will keep monitoring the situation.

If the rest of the results of the coronavirus tests show improvement, the classes will be reopened in the third phase with the pre-primary and primary classes. But in case the situation is not satisfactory, they will see what is to be done. “But there will be no compromise on the health of our children,” he stressed.

“From day one, we have appealed to parents to implement SOPs for their children, but unfortunately we do not see any positive progress from the parents either,” he said. “The parents can help us reopen educational institutions by making sure the SOPs are implemented,” he said.

Centre asked to give loans to pvt schools

Responding to a question, he said that if they see the situation in Sindh deteriorating, they cannot wait for the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC) meeting.

Replying to another question, Mr Ghani said that in order to solve the economic problems of private educational institutions, they have twice requested the federal government and the NCOC to provide them interest-free loans. “Only the federal government can do it,” he pointed out.

To a query regarding online classes, the education minister said that they, with the help of Microsoft, completed the registration of more than 500,000 students in online classes and created their IDs and that the process was continuing.

He also reminded that no part of the country had 100 per cent internet facility but up to 60pc students would benefit from this initiative.

School owners unhappy over decision

The decision to postpone the second phase of opening of schools elicited a negative reaction from private school owners, who are worried that the government might even decide to not open the lower classes altogether.

Amjad Siddiqi, a private school owner, said that the class six to eight children had not even started coming back to school as yet and the government decided that the SOPs were not being implemented.

“First let them make the violation and then punish them accordingly. Meanwhile, children of all ages are roaming about in shopping centres and picnic spots,” he said.

Shahab Khan, another school owner, reminded that by prolonging school closure the government was not just hurting children’s education, they were also pushing school owners towards financial ruin.

Izhar Soomro, yet another owner of a private school, said that schools were the only places where there was a constant supervision and SOPs could be implemented easily. “And the education minister wants to keep schools closed. I think there is more to this than meets the eye. I think it is all being done because government schools don’t have the capability or responsible staff to implement the SOPs,” he said.

Another school owner said that the education minister made his decision in haste. He questioned: “If they are seeing an increase in Covid-19 cases, who don’t they close down everything else and impose another lockdown?”

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2020