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August 8, 2020

Private schools adamant on reopening from 15th

Peshawar

August 8, 2020

PESHAWAR: Private schools in the province, like other parts of the country, are adamant to reopen from August 15 despite the government instructions that all the educational institutions would reopen from September 15.

However, the provincial government is yet to adopt any clear strategy for dealing with the situation. “The provincial government doesn’t have any policy of its own. It looks to the federal government and follows its decisions though education is thoroughly a provincial subject,” said a senior official in the Education Department, while talking to The News. The government at the same time doesn’t want to annoy the private educational institutions and it holds meetings with their representatives off and on. A recent notification about reopening of the schools for administration and staff was aimed at appeasing the private schools, according to sources.

However, the representatives of private schools are not ready to trust the government’s measures. Aqeel Razzaq is heading Hub of Private Education (HOPE), an association of the private schools. He said they would reopen the private educational institutions from August 15 come what may.

“We are ready to resist any government action. We can see more schools getting closed owing to the prolonged closure,” he told The News. He said that the private schools were closed on March 14, which, he claimed, caused unrest to owners. Up to 630 schools in the province have been closed down permanently for they were unable to pay rents of buildings and salaries to staff, he said. He said 150,000 teaching and non-teaching staff members were doing jobs in private schools and very few of them have got salaries for five months during the schools’ closure due to Covid-19 pandemic.

In view of the sorry situation, all the private schools from across the country took a unanimous decision to get the schools reopened from August 19 without taking care of government decisions. “If we get late for another one month, thousands of schools would be shut as they were not able to sustain the situation,” he claimed. He said they were ready to follow Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs). The school timings would be from 7 am to 11 am. No assembly would be held. The laboratories and libraries would remain closed. The principle of social distancing would be followed, he added. He said they were ready to resist the government actions in case of reopening of the schools.

“The government can take four types of action against us such as police raid, district administration aid, fine, cancellation of schools’ registration and sealing the schools. We are mentally prepared to resist all such actions,” he added. Aqeel Razzaq said there were 8,600 registered private schools in the province and the number reaches 16,000 if unregistered private schools are counted. Khwaja Yawar Naseer, head of Private Schools Management Association, said they would reopen the schools and resist government decisions but they would have to look at the response of parents and students.

“If parents remain reluctant to send kids to schools, their effort to reopen the institutions would prove futile,” he added. However, the situation was very confusing and they were unable to own a clear line of action, he said.

He believed that the coronavirus situation had improved, but they could not take any risk for if a child gets infected, it would be a matter of serious concern. Also, if the schools reopen and the government functionaries conduct raids, it would create an embarrassing situation for the school, he added. Khwaja Yawar Naseer was, however, concerned at the difficulties of the private schools, which have been suffering losses for the last five months, and the apathy of the government. He said Rs30 billion funds were lying unutilised with the Frontier Education Foundation, which were meant for the private education sector. But even loans were not given to the schools from the said fund. On the other hand, it is also a fact that these private schools leave any stone unturned to fleece students and their parents. The situation was even worse in normal days when the system was smooth and uninterrupted by Covid-19. Even now the majority of the schools have adopted unique tactics to collect fees from the students but they are not paying staff. The Peshawar Model School, the largest chain of private schools in the province, collects fees from the students on different pretexts, the recent one is that of online test.

Parents are informed through emails and SMS that online test would be conducted for their wards through this link. When the students try to visit the link, they are denied access and a message is displayed asking them to pay dues before appearing in the test. The Frontier Children Academy is another prominent school system. It sacked a teacher for demanding a salary. “The situation in almost all the schools is almost the same. These schools are a powerful mafia and the government and everyone is helpless before them,” said a parent.