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When is Punjab going to reopen schools?

Punjab government seems to be indecisive about how to reopen schools. The provincial minister for primary and secondary education has hinted at reopening educational institutions from September 15. However, he did not share any comprehensive policy to ensure the strict implementation of SOPs.

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A delegation of private school owners called on Punjab Minister for Education Dr. Murad Raas here in Lahore on Wednesday. During the meeting, matters pertaining to the opening of schools and standard operating procedures (SOPs) were discussed. Students and parents are yet to know when is Punjab going to reopen schools?

Speaking on the occasion, the Punjab Minister for Education Murad Ras said that the final decision for opening school will be made at a meeting in the first week of September.

He said teachers will be trained about the implementation of SOPs while training will be given to CEOs of all districts in the first phase. The meeting also issued standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the opening of schools, keeping in view the guidelines of international organizations.

On August 15, the Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas hinted at the reopening of schools in two shifts across the province from September 15. “We are mulling for reopening of schools in two shifts as it would be better for children”, the minister said in his statement.

Read More: Educational institutions in Sindh to remain closed till March 13

Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas said that standard operating procedures (SOPs) will be finalized in meeting with the schools’ owners and added that final decision about reopening of schools in Punjab will be taken in the first week of September.

COVID-19 cases in Pakistan

Punjab recorded 131 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and reported one more death, taking the tally of overall cases in the province to 95,743, according to an official statement.

A spokesperson for the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department said the total number of Covid-19 cases has increased to 95,743 with the addition of 131 new cases reported over the last 24 hours.

The spokesperson further said that as many as 841,229 diagnostic tests have been conducted for COVID-19 across the province, out of which 95,743 turned out to be positive.

One more coronavirus-related death was reported during the previous 24 hours, he said, adding death toll from the disease in the province stands at 2,186.

More than 90,000 people have recovered from the virus in the province so far.

On August 15, the Punjab health department had warned of a second wave of coronavirus in the province due to a lack of precautionary measures adopted by the masses.

The warning of a second wave of the deadly infection was issued by the provincial Primary and Secondary Healthcare department to the divisional commissioners and regional police officers (RPOs).

Is Punjab going to reopen schools? Should it?

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.

Read More:  Educational institutes to remain closed for 2 days in Punjab

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 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

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.

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