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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Is Pakistan headed towards educational disaster as schools remain closed?

Government must demonstrate leadership that will determine whether Pakistan sinks deeper into the abyss of ignorance or emerges stronger

Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood on Friday rejected the ‘false news’ that schools in Pakistan would remain closed till October due to the coronavirus pandemic.  Mahmood tweeted that a meeting between all the education ministers, to be held on Monday, will decide the likelihood of reopening schools in a phased manner.

“Some fake accounts in my name are spreading false news that schools will remain closed till Oct. Not true. Education ministers meet on 7th to finally decide with likelihood of opening on Sept 15 in a phased manner,” he tweeted.

In July, Mahmood had told a news conference that all educational institutions will reopen on September 15 if the coronavirus situation of the country improves.  He had also said that the government will review its decision to close schools in an inter-provincial meeting in the last week of August.

The minister had said that provinces will be responsible for ensuring SOPs that are followed, cautioning schools to follow the procedures laid out by the government.

In August, he chaired a conference of the education ministers of all four provinces in Islamabad where it was unanimously decided not to reopen schools before September 15. A suggestion from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government to open schools from September 1 was rejected by all provinces.

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Moreover, the spokesperson from the Sindh Education Ministry had said that no one will be allowed to reopen schools before September 15 and that legal action will be taken against those who do so.

‘Pakistan heading towards education, social disaster’

Education experts in Pakistan are suggesting the government should reopen educational institutions in order to ensure that private schools, colleges, and universities do not go bankrupt. A country already struggling to deal with an unprecedented economic recession may not be in a position to give any bailout package to schools dealing with economic repercussions as a result of the deadly pandemic, they say.

Savail M Hussain, a prominent economist and entrepreneur, recently argued that “it is the time to reopen education”.  He also maintained that “in a country where even in the best of times almost 22 million children remain out of school, a continued school closure will result in an educational and social disaster that will take generations to repair. Governments are risk-averse – and rightly so”.

Hussain also said that “they [governments] must not ignore the evidence that education is amongst the lowest-risk sectors. They must take heart from what the world is doing and what people across Pakistan are telling them. And above all, they must demonstrate leadership for that will determine – in this once in a lifetime crisis – whether Pakistan sinks deeper into the abyss of ignorance and its attendant miseries, or emerges stronger”.

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Mr. Hussain also noted: “Of the almost 50 million children in school, two out of every five attend private school. This makes Pakistan one of the few countries in the world where the private sector accounts for such a large proportion of the education system.”

“Over 85 percent of the almost 200,000 private schools that dot the length and breadth of the country are low-cost institutions (fees of Rs2000 per month or less), and most function from rented premises. Therein lies the rub: prolonged closures such as the one we are experiencing mean fee incomes for most low-cost schools dry up, while recurring costs such as teacher salaries and rent continue to pile up.”

The facts as presented above make a case for reopening educational institutions with strict implementation of SOPs as outlined by WHO and the government of Pakistan.