Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood on Thursday announced to reopen educational institutions from September 15 with strict enforcement of standard operating procedures (SOPs). The government is expecting from the educational institutions to strictly implement the SOPs. However, should the government reopen educational institutions, experts fear that such a decision may lead to an increase in the cases.
Federal Minister for Education @Shafqat_Mahmood said that the educational institutions including madaris, public and private sector schools, colleges and universities would be opened from September 15 under strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) #ReopeningSchools #Covid_19 pic.twitter.com/NxbHE6HZKy
— Ministry of Education and Professional Training (@EduMinistryPK) July 9, 2020
Addressing a press conference here in Islamabad, the education minister said that the government has decided to resume educational activities from September 15 and provinces have been asked to formulate SOPs for school’s reopening in this regard.
“The situation of Covid-19 in the country will be reviewed in August and September before the opening of the educational institutions. If the Covid-19 situation gets better, the educational institutions will reopen from September 15,” he added.
However, the minister said that educational institutions that come under smart lockdown areas would not be allowed to resume academic activities. He said that the government was permitting universities also to admit students into hostels up to 30%. “We are allowing universities to call PhD students, who are very few in number, to their laboratories for research work before September 15,” he said.
The minister said that it was also decided that examinations will be taken in open areas under strict SOPs by maintaining 6-feet distance and wearing masks will be mandatory.
Shafqat Mehmood said the provincial governments will be authorized to close the institutions, which do not observe SOPs while the federal government will monitor implementation of the SOPs.
Should government reopen educational institutions?
Experts in Pakistan have warned against the premature easing of lockdown restrictions, fearing an exponential rise in infections. One healthcare worker said: “Everyone’s scared and exhausted. But we are fighting, we are pushing the limits. All we ask is that the government and people understand that they can help us help them by staying at home and providing us quality protective gear.”
Pakistanis are largely violating the SOPs issued by the government to contain the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. Dr. Ahmed Usman, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Social and Cultural Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore, believes that: “Pakistani society is generally considered as a traditional society whose fabric is woven with the threads of norms, values, and cultures that are mostly shaped up by the complex theological underpinnings. Societal norms encourage social gatherings and overwhelming ways to express care, grief, and sorrow. The patterns of greetings are further formed as per religious frameworks that yet again emphasizes on kindness, generosity, and warmth ensured through reducing the physical gap between people. Religious rituals including Ibadaat at Mosques and religious congregations are considered compulsory in Islam. With this kind of widespread belief system, people believe that while they are in a state of ablution, no disease can harm them.”
Dr. Usman notes that “arguably, the belief system encourages them to violate the man-made rules of lockdown that they think are baseless and a conspiracy of enemies to weaken the connection between God and them. As lockdown restricts people from going to mosques and attending congregational prayers, it is considered an enemy’s tool to disconnect true Muslims from thy Lord.”
Should government reopen educational institutions? Probably, yes. But it is yet to be seen whether the government finally reopens educational institutions even if the SOPs are largely violated. It is worth noting that before Eid the government allowed people to shop, and there had been widespread violations of the SOPs.