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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Pakistan: Is it safe to reopen schools now?

The available data suggests that the mortality rate in young people is ‘statistically insignificant’. Recent evidence from Germany, Denmark, Finland, and France, where schools have reopened, is ‘instructive’. Experts propose, therefore, Pakistan should reopen schools.

Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training, Shafqat Mahmood has said that several revolutionary steps have been taken in consultation with all stakeholders during the last two years to reform the education sector in the country. The minister also clarified that the government will take the final decision on reopening of schools on September 7. The government deliberating on whether Is it safe to reopen schools or not. Available evidence and experts suggest the government to reopen the educational institutions.

The minister also said that efforts to introduce a uniform curriculum in the country are bearing fruit as a uniform curriculum from class one to five has been prepared and uploaded on the Ministry’s website. Schools will teach one curriculum from April next year, he added. The minister also said that a uniform curriculum will lead to developing national cohesion in the country. Model textbooks are also being prepared, he clarified.

Did other countries reopen schools?

It is important to note that the available data suggests that the mortality rate in young people is ‘statistically insignificant’. A study conducted by Cambridge University statisticians shows that the chance of anyone under the age of 15 dying from COVID is 1 in 3.5 million. It means the probability of being struck by lightning is 1 in 700,000.

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Prof Herman Goosens, the coordinator of an EU Task Force on Covid-19, has recently found that children account for less than one percent of infections. Interestingly, recent evidence from Germany, Denmark, Finland and France, where schools have reopened, is ‘instructive’. No statistical correlation has been found between the reopening of schools and the Ro or infection rate in these countries going forward. Nor did significant infection clusters emerge in communities where schools have reopened or in schools themselves. Prof Goosens’ advice is to bring children back to school. This is echoed by the executive director of Unicef, who wrote, ‘‘the risks of keeping schools closed outweigh the health risks caused by the pandemic.’’

Is it safe to reopen schools?

Analysts in Pakistan are suggesting the government to 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.

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, continued school closure will result in an educational and social disaster that will take generations to repair. Governments are risk-averse – and rightly so”. Mr. 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”.

Read More: Pakistan’s Educational Assistance to Afghans

While discussing is it safe to reopen schools, 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.