The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Tuesday allowed schools across the country to resume in-person classes for grades six to eight starting tomorrow (Sept 23), Radio Pakistan reported.
Following the decision, Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa issued notifications on resumption of middle school classes from tomorrow. However, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani said schools in the province would reopen on Sept 28.
Earlier this month, millions of students in Pakistan returned to classes as educational institutions reopened after a break of six months. In the first phase, all higher education institutions including universities, professional colleges, vocational institutes, as well as classes nine till 12 resumed on Sept 15.
Classes six to eight were scheduled to resume from Sept 23 in phase 2 while primary students were set to return to schools on Sept 30.
But tens of educational institutions were closed soon after across the country over violation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and detection of Covid-19 cases among some students, teachers and other staff.
As a result, Sindh government announced a week's delay in implementing phase 2, with students of grades six to eight being asked to start schools on Sept 28. Education minister Ghani said the decision was taken after he observed schools were not fully following coronavirus health guidelines.
Federal education minister Shafqat Mahmood had at the time said the government would evaluate the situation and announce a final decision on whether secondary schools will be opening as planned.
In a meeting today, the NCOC green lighted the second phase of reopening of schools from tomorrow as scheduled.
'Situation is improving'
Addressing a media briefing in Islamabad later in the day, the federal education minister said that the government had been closely monitoring the health situation since schools reopened.
He added that he and the provincial ministers had visited schools across the country to ensure that standard operating procedures (SOPs) for curbing the spread of the virus were being followed.
"Let me say that several schools were closed down for not following SOPs. It was being perceived incorrectly that this was done due to an increase in the number of cases. This was done only because they didn't follow the guidelines."
He added that after reviewing the situation, it was decided earlier today that secondary classes would resume in Punjab, KP, Balochistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir with the exception of Rawalkot district, and Gilgit Baltistan.
Mahmood regretted that Sindh had decided to delay middle school classes. "We wanted a unified decision [but] they said they will review the situation for another week," he said.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan added that during the past one week since schools reopened across the country, there had not been a rise in the number of total cases or the positivity rate.
He also urged parents, students and school administrations to ensure and encourage the use of face masks and other guidelines for curbing the spread of the virus.
"The situation is improving, but we require your cooperation," said Mahmood
Following the NCOC decision, Punjab Minister for School Education Murad Raas said schools in the province would be allowed to resume classes six to eight from Sept 23 (tomorrow).
"It is imperative for everyone to follow SOPs issued by the school education department," he said, adding that everyone would have to play their roles to make the reopening successful.
In a statement, Education Minister Saeed Ghani reiterated that middle schools in Sindh would reopen from Sept 28. All government and private schools in the province would have to follow the schedule, he said.
In a statement, he said the decision had already been taken a few days ago "keeping in view the ground realities observed after the first phase of reopening of schools".
"We will not make any compromise on the students' health as long as SOPs are not being implemented completely in educational institutions," he added.
Ghani said he was visiting schools in different districts of the province to check implementation of SOPs.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Minister Shahram Tarakai also said middle schools in the province would be reopened from tomorrow with proper SOPs.
"If conditions get better, primary schools will also be allowed to resume classes soon," he added.
The Balochistan education department said schools in the province would remain open regularly from tomorrow. In a notification, the department said schools that have been sealed previously due to Covid-19 cases among teachers and students would also be allowed to reopen from tomorrow.
In the future too, no school would be closed due to detection of coronavirus cases. Only the affected teachers and students would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine period, the notification stated.