Shafqat Mahmood announces to reopen schools
The federal government will review its decision to reopen schools in the first week of September, said Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood. As the private educational institutions association has announced to reopen schools across the country from August 15th, the government seems to be committed to ensure that an agreeable decision is to take prior to the deadline.
The government has announced its decision on reopening of educational institutions but it is subject to the virus situation, Prime Minister Imran Khan has stressed a simpler Eidul Azha, and the latest coronavirus updates from Pakistan. pic.twitter.com/ZrLChhuTLN
— The Current (@TheCurrentPK) July 9, 2020
Talking to a private news channel, the minister said private educational institutions could only call their teachers and administration staff on duty before September 15 but the government schools would be never allowed to call their students before a final decision, as there could be no compromise on the health of students.
“Schools and colleges across the country will reopen only after the coronavirus pandemic is over,” he added. He said strict SOPs, including spaced-out seating arrangements, division of classes into further sections and change in timings could be some of the measures that schools will have to adopt whenever they were reopened.
“We are considering every possible option. We will try to adjust things like whether to hold the annual exams this year, or defer tests to next year”, he said. “The final decision would be taken by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), which monitors and acts upon the developments to stem the spread of coronavirus in the country,” he mentioned.
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He further said specific tasks would be created for teachers in schools and responsibilities for ensuring health and hygiene would be defined before schools reopen. “We want to end the uncertainty as soon as possible with the consultation of all stakeholders on the basic important issue like education,” he said.
Private schools to be reopened on August 15
The All Pakistan Private Schools and Colleges Association (APPSCA) announced on Monday reopening private educational institutions from August 15 across the country, rejecting the federal government’s earlier decision to reopen them in September.
In a joint press conference, the association observed that students have had to suffer an educational loss as schools and colleges have been closed for the past six to eight months. They asserted that they would open educational institutes from August 15 across the country.
The APPSCA president, Hidayat Khan, added that the virus has slowed down and that cases are also on a decline. He added that the association had tried to negotiate with the government but they did not listen. “If the government tries to stop us, we will organize a ‘million march’,” Khan warned. He further criticized the federal government, calling it incompetent.
“We will open schools in line with the SOPs,” he said. “Madrassas have been opened, and they have even conducted examinations,” he further stated.
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.
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.’’
Why should Pakistan reopen educational institutions?
Analysts in Pakistan are suggesting the government reopen educational institutions (particularly Private 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”.
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 private educational institutions with strict implementation of SOPs as outlined by WHO and the government of Pakistan.