THE disruptive impact of Covid-19 on education will be felt for years to come. For countries like Pakistan, where 44pc of the children were out of school even before the pandemic struck, the consequences will be devastating. In Pakistan, the extended closure of schools and colleges paints a bleak picture of the future. A recent World Bank report on education poverty had predicted that the pandemic could end up seeing at least 930,000 children out of primary and secondary schools in the country. This development, the report estimated, could cause losses of up to $155bn to the national economy over the next 20 years. It is in light of this challenge that the federal government’s decision to reopen educational institutions in phases must be viewed. At present, classes have resumed for classes nine through 12, while classes one through eight and university are set to resume from Feb 1. However, the federal education ministry has said it would reassess the situation after analysing the latest trajectory of Covid-19 cases in the country, and cities with high infection rates might be allowed to not reopen school for students of classes one through eight for some more time.

No doubt, while education has to be resumed, given Pakistan’s problematic schooling landscape the enforcement of SOPs will be a Herculean task. During the lockdown, while many private schools opted for online classes, students of public schools, where having a desk to oneself is often a luxury let alone owning a laptop, were left to their own devices. Moreover, how will proper handwashing and social distancing be ensured in thousands of public schools that have no walls and potable water? These are only some of the problems that will need to be addressed immediately. The situation is unprecedented, and requires innovative and urgent solutions concerning compliance with SOPs. The education authorities must be prepared to think on their feet to ensure that schools, colleges and universities do not contribute to the infection rate in the country.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2021

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