Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood on Friday announced a revised schedule of the reopening of schools, according to which classes from 9 to 12 will begin from January 18 as planned previously, while classes 1-8 will start from February 1 instead of January 25.
Universities will reopen from February 1 as had been decided in the previous meeting, he said.
Mahmood was addressing a press conference after the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) meeting which was also attended by federal and provincial health and education ministers. They discussed the ongoing wave of Covid-19, which is being considered as more lethal than the first one and had forced the closure of educational institutions in order to protect students and teachers.
- Classes 9-12: Jan 18
- Classes 1-8: Feb 1
- Universities: Feb 1
During the press conference, Mahmood said that this year, high school students would not be promoted without examinations and therefore, it had been decided that their classes should resume as per schedule. Higher education institutions will reopen from February 1 along with primary and secondary schools.
The federal minister said that next week, the NCOC will review infection rates in different cities and districts before the reopening of higher education institutions and primary and middle schools. Authorities will discuss if education institutions in cities and districts where infection rate is high should remain closed, he added. Mahmood clarified, however, that a decision to delay reopening in areas with high infection rates had not yet been taken.
Authorities may also decide, where possible, to have children — who live in areas where lockdowns are imposed — come to schools once a week to collect their homework, the education minister said.
He acknowledged that education had suffered losses over the past few months but emphasised that the government also had to take care of people's health.
Mahmood said that in an earlier meeting the ministers had noted that opening of schools had a direct impact on infection rates.
"When we saw [infection rate rising], we closed schools because our experts told us that there is a clear link between school closures and infection rate," he told reporters.
In a two-part tweet announcing the dates of the reopening, Mahmood said that "priority is being given to [classes 9-12] because of board exams that have been postponed to May, June".
Shortly after the NCOC meeting, Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas tweeted the reopening dates of education institutions in the province, adding that "the situation is being monitored daily for the safety of our students and teachers and their families."
While speaking to Dawn yesterday, Mahmood had said that the decision to reopen schools would be taken "after reviewing all the aspects".
"Health is top priority, so we can’t make compromise on health of students and teachers. At the same time, we want opening of schools as students have already faced loss of education. So before taking final decision all aspects will be discussed,” the federal minister had said.
On January 4, the education ministers on the advice of health experts had announced reopening of educational institutions in phases from January 18.
They had decided that in the first phase, classes from 9 to 12 would be reopened followed by primary and middle schools from January 25 and in the final phase higher educational institutions from February 1.
The ministers had also decided that before the reopening of schools, a review meeting would be held on January 15 (today).
The meeting of the education ministers had also decided to postpone board examinations for class 9th to 12th from March-April to May-June to provide some extra time to students to complete their courses.
It was also decided that the new session would begin in August to provide extra time to students to cover syllabus as educational institutions remained closed from March to September last year and then from November onward.