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July 11, 2020

Reopening schools

Editorial

 
July 11, 2020

The decision to reopen educational institutions should not depend upon how much the owners of private schools in Pakistan are clamouring for it. It is a decision that should solely focus on the health and wellbeing of the children and the teachers who will be directly in the line of Covid-19 infection. A recently held meeting of education ministers has decided that schools will reopen in September – encouragingly, subject to approval from the National Coordination Committee (NCC). The interprovincial education ministers’ virtual conference has anticipated that if the Ministry of National Health Services gives a go ahead by the first week of September, educational institutions may reopen by mid-September. Since the coronavirus situation in the country is still not fully under control, a hasty decision in this matter may jeopardize our children’s health. We need to review the level of compliance of standard operating procedures (SOPs) in all federating units constantly before jumping to conclusions. Another point of concern is the proposed administration of examinations of professional colleges, entry tests into engineering and medical schools, and the exams of religious boards. According to reports, the ministers’ meeting proposed that the exams be held with special arrangements such as keeping physical distance and wearing masks.

This proposal may easily result in candidates and students sitting in closed spaces such as classrooms and halls where the virus can infect hundreds of people in one go. For students who are already enrolled, written exams should be a thing of the past. Our educational managers should be familiar with modern methods of measuring students’ performances that should not be revolving around an age-old method of in-class written exams. As for entry tests, even without Covid-19 and even before health concerns, educational experts had raised concerns about entry tests. Third, the religious boards should also come up with a better mechanism to assess their students.

Finally, the talk about observing SOPs during exams is not convincing as we have seen till now a near complete disregard for physical distancing and masks. Even when the number of deaths has crossed the 5000 mark, we can hardly see anybody observing the SOPs. A majority of private schools in Pakistan are located in bungalows and even two to three room houses. There are thousands of single-room schools too where multi-grade teaching takes place, if at all. Students end up sitting in close proximity with each other, and all promises by private school owners to follow the SOPs appear to be hollow. Under these circumstances, we suggest that no hasty decisions are taken until the government is sure that the Covid-19 pandemic is fully contained.