Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood said on Tuesday that there will be no in-person classes for grade 1 to 8 in areas affected by Covid-19 till April 28.
The minister also said that classes for grade 9, 10, 11 and 12 will be allowed to resume from April 19 so that students can finish the curriculum and be prepared for their exams.
Mahmood made the announcement while addressing the media after the National Command and Control Centre (NCOC) held a meeting to review the opening of the country's educational institutions.
Key takeaways for Covid hotspots
- Classes for grades 1 to 8 will remain suspended till April 28
- Classes for grades 9 to 12 will begin from April 19 in a staggered manner
- All board exams will take place
- Local boards will hold exams after May 24
- A and O Level exams to go ahead as planned (from May 10)
- Universities have been asked to push back entrance exams
He started off by stating that two main topics were discussed during today's NCOC meeting. The first was whether educational institutions that have been closed down till April 11 will continue as is or will they be opened, he said.
The second topic of discussion was the schedule for exams, he said, adding that this included exams for grade 9, 10, 11 and 12 as well as those for O and A levels.
"During today's meeting it was decided that classes for grade 1 to 8 will not be held in districts that are affected [by Covid-19] and this will go on till April 28."
For example, the Punjab education minister informed the meeting that he has 13 districts that have been affected, he said. "Therefore, in these 13 districts, classes for grade 1 to 8 will not require the physical presence of students," Mehmood added.
"The provinces will decide which areas are the most affected and where this will be implemented." The minister said that this decision will be reviewed again on April 28.
Mahmood also said that classes for grade 9, 10, 11 and 12 will be allowed to resume from April 19 in the affected areas with strict standard operating procedures (SOPs). "This means that classes will also resume in affected districts in a staggered manner so that students can complete their lessons and be prepared for their examinations."
He added, however, that universities in affected districts will remain closed and classes will shift online. "Otherwise, universities will function as per usual," he said.
Commenting on upcoming examinations, the minister said approximately 4 million students across the country were scheduled to appear in local board exams. "It was decided that exams for grade 9, 10, 11 and 12 will be held, but because they are our own [boards], these exams will be pushed to the third week of May."
He added that the date sheet announced by Punjab would also be revised so that the coronavirus situation is under control by the time exams begin and children have time to prepare. "All provinces and boards have given separate timetables. But nothing will happen before May 24."
The minister added that universities had been asked to push back the deadlines for admission.
Regarding A and O level examinations, the minister said that approximately 85,000 students were scheduled to appear for these.
"It was unanimously recommended to allow O and A Level exams to go forward as planned. This is because these concern a significantly smaller number of students," he said, adding that Cambridge International had assured the government of ensuring the implementation of SOPs.
Cambridge exams are scheduled to begin from May 10 in Pakistan.
The minister also dispelled the notion that Cambridge exams were not being held in other countries in the region. "That is not correct. Apart from Bangladesh, exams are being held in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and others."
He said data from Cambridge showed that 80 per cent of countries were having exams. "I want to repeat this [...] exams for A and O level will be held according to the date sheet. There will be no change in this."
Therefore, students should prepare for their exams and not be distracted, he advised.
The minister concluded his press conference by saying that the government's top priority was the children's future.
He said last year students for grade 9, 10 and 11 were passed on the grade for the previous year. "Now we don't even have that. So it is important to give the exams."
In a tweet shortly after his press conference concluded, Mahmood reiterated his advice to students and urged them to "start preparing and working hard".
"Decisions regarding exams are final. This decision will not be changed so no one should have any uncertainty in their mind. Everything has been done keeping the interest of education in mind. My very best wishes to everyone," he said.
Closure of schools
Schools and learning centres in Islamabad and several major cities of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been closed since March 15 in light of surging coronavirus cases.
The decision on closures during the third wave of the virus was first taken on March 10 by the NCOC, when it was decided that educational institutions in 10 major cities, including Islamabad, will be given a two-week spring break from March 15 to March 28.
However, as cases continued to rise and spread to more cities in Punjab and KP, the NCOC in a review on March 24 decided to extend the closures till April 11, this time including more cities in the said provinces. At the time, institutes in Balochistan and Sindh were advised to maintain a 50 per cent attendance policy since the incidence of cases was lower in these provinces.
Two days ago, the Sindh government also suspended physical classes for grades one till eight in all public and private schools for 15 days starting April 6 (today) in view of the rising incidence of Covid-19 cases in the province.
Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani said schools will be able to continue delivering online classes, or keep the students engaged through homework and other means.