Federal Education Shafqat Mahmood said on Sunday that reopening of educational institutions from January 11, 2021, seems to be difficult due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country. Talking to ARY News program ‘Sawal Yeh Hai’, the education minister said that decision on reopening of educational institutions will be taken on the basis of health advisory keeping in view the prevailing coronavirus situation across the country.
“In the current Covid situation, it is difficult to reopen educational institutions from January 11, said Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood.
He further said a meeting of the inter-provincial education ministers will be held via video-link tomorrow to discuss the prevailing situation of the second wave of Covid-19 and reopening of educational institutions.
The minister clearly stated that this year no student would be promoted to the next grade without examinations. “Exams will take place at any cost this year,” added Mahmood.
It is pertinent to mention here that a meeting of the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers will be held tomorrow (Monday) via video link with Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood in the chair.
The forum will discuss the prevailing situation of the second wave of Covid-19 and the reopening of educational institutions across the country. It will also deliberate upon the beginning of new academic session from August and reduction of spring and summer vacations.
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The agenda of the meeting has a proposal to reopen educational institutions across the country in three phases starting from January 25 and to conduct board examinations from the last week of May.
It is important to note that Jang reported on Saturday that the education ministers would deliberate reopening educational institutions in phases. In the first phase, the primary level students would head back to school on January 25. The second phase would see middle schools reopening by February 4 and the higher education institutions would start by February 15 in the third phase.
Jang reported that it has been proposed to delay school and board examinations till last week of May or early June. The summer vacations would be shortened with the new academic year beginning in August. Meanwhile, private schools associations across the country have opposed keeping schools shut.
Should Pakistan reopen educational institutions?
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”.
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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.