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May 23, 2020

Educators demand Sindh open institutes under strict SOPs


May 23, 2020

Private school associations have demanded of the Sindh government to let them open educational institutions from June 15, asserting that they will ensure “strict measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus” for which an SOP will be formed after the steering committee’s meeting.

This year, the provincial education department has so far convened three meetings of the committee. However, the stakeholders are yet to decide the calendar of the new academic year and find out ways to minimise the educational disruption.

Also, low-fee private schools, which make around 60 per cent of the total registered private educational institutes in the province, are facing a severe financial crunch. The owners have continuously been demanding interest loans and financial assistance from the federal and the provincial governments for their survival. They say if the government didn’t provide financial assistance to them, a majority of such institutions will shut down in the near future, because of which the number of out-of-school children will increase.

The associations which are demanding the reopening of educational institutes are the All Private Schools Management Association Sindh, the Private Schools Management Association Sind, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation’s Sindh chapter, the All Sindh Private Schools and the Colleges Association.

On the other hand, the parents’ association are opposing the reopening of schools. The leaders of the association say they can’t take risk with children’s lives by sending them to schools, while the provincial education minister in his latest press conference after a steering committee’s meeting stated that an immediate reopening of schools was impossible. But the minister admitted that the education department had no solution on how to overcome the educational disruption.

‘Open schools’

Addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club last week, Syed Tariq Shah, chairman of the All Private Schools Management Association, said the government should announce the reopening of the schools along with financial assistance for low-cost private educational institutions which play an important role by helping the state in educating children coming from humble backgrounds.

He said the private schools would implement strict SOPs being followed by other countries. “However, the School Education and Literacy Department should convene the steering committee’s meeting so that the SOPs and the calendar of the new academic year could be decided.”

He said a majority of low-cost private schools would not survive in the current crisis because the government had no plan to financially assist these schools. “The administrators of such institutes would close their schools and resultantly a new educational crisis would be observed.”

He said the government had accepted that it had no plan and solution to minimise the educational disruption. But the authorities were still not ready to listen to the educational experts and educators of private sectors, he added.

“There is no reason to keep the educational institutes closed until the end of the pandemic. Authorities should come up with concrete solutions because we may have to live with coronavirus for years.”

Sharaf uz Zaman Siddiqui, chairman of the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation’s Sindh chapter, while talking to The News, said the low-fee private schools were, on the one hand, deprived of government financial assistance and, on the other hand, they paid huge taxes, rents and commercial utility bills.

“The government has also made it mandatory for the owners of such schools to give 20 per cent concession in tuition fees, while a 10 per cent of freeship quota is already implemented by the relevant regulating authorities. Therefore, the fate of the low-cost private school was hanging in balance. They can’t pay their staffers while their income is almost zero,” he said.

He said the government had also barred the owners of such schools from terminating the services of their staffers. “But the question is if the owners don’t have any resources then how is it possible for them to keep their schools functional,” he added.

“The closure of schools would result in the permanent closure of low-fee private schools. Thus, it is impossible to keep schools and move online as all parents don’t have facilities to educate their children at home. But a majority of parents hardly afford even fee of low-cost schools,” said Siddiqui.

He said an alliance of the private school associations was planning to reopen schools by next month. “There is no other option except for the reopening of the schools,” he stated.

About the closure of the schools, the chairman of the All Sindh Private Schools and Colleges Association’s Sindh. Haider Ali, said: “A further closure of the educational institutions is unacceptable. There will be a huge loss.”

He added: “Authorities are allowing businesses to open with strict SOPs, but they are only keeping the educational institutions closed. The way they are treating the private education sector, this would certainly cause huge losses to private school owners.”

Next month, he said, the association would open schools. “If the government has no solution and doesn’t want to find out a way to minimise the educational disruption, the owners would be free to decide what they think is the best in the interest of children.”

Parents’ association

Nevertheless, the Parents Action Committee (PAC) says parents will not let children attend schools given the coronavirus pandemic. PAC chairman Kashif Sabirani said: “Private school owners are anxious about their business losses”.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said, a majority of countries had closed schools “The risk of the coronavirus spread in Pakistan is still on the peak. Thus, the government has to be careful in making decisions regarding the reopening of the schools.” To a question, he said the lives of children were more important than sending them to schools in the pandemic.

Government’s stance

Addressing a press conference at the Sindh Assembly Auditorium on Tuesday, Sindh Minister for Education and Labour Saeed Ghani said the Sindh government was not in a position to reopen the educational institutes in the current circumstances, as the parents would not send their children to schools and colleges even if the government decided to open the educational institutes.

He, however, admitted that the provincial government had no substitute for schools. “The closure of educational institutions had disrupted education, but even now given the situation and the briefings we receive from the experts on a daily basis, it is impossible for the government to reopen the educational institutions.”

He added: “After the court decision, my personal opinion is that we should not open only schools but we should also allow all kinds of activities because education is more important than purchasing clothes for Eid”.

He said whether the decision of the court to open malls was wrong or right, “we are bound to abide by this decision”.

The minister, however, said the constitution stipulated that all institutions should take decisions within their limits and it was the responsibility of the government to ensure the implementation of these decisions.