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September 13, 2020

Reopening schools with SOPs will be a strenuous task


September 13, 2020

After the announcement of reopening educational institutions on September 15, the implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and resumption of curriculum activities will be a strenuous task for the educators, parents and students, believe private schools associations, parents, and government authorities.

Some of the parents feel that they have been wronged as despite paying hefty amounts in tuition fees for the last seven months, a majority of the school owners failed to hold online classes for their children.

Meanwhile, administrators of private schools are worrying about the completion of courses as seven months of the current academic year have already lapsed with no teaching due to the closure of schools during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The authorities, however, are of the view that if the SOPs introduced by the provincial and federal governments were not followed in the schools, millions of children would be at risk.Last week, Federal Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood, while addressing a press conference after an inter-provincial education ministers meeting, had announced the restoration of educational activities across the country by the end of this month.

Concerned school owners

According to the All Sindh Private Schools and Colleges Association chairman, Haider Ali, the decision of restoring educational activities in the country was a positive sign for the students and the education sector but many issues were yet to be addressed.

In the ongoing academic year, around seven months have lapsed in the summer zones where schools observe long vacations in June, July, and August while nine months have passed in the winter zones where the schools start in March every year because of the winter vacations from December till March. Therefore, educators are still perplexed because the duration of the academic year is undecided.

“We, the private school owners will not only face administrative and curricular problems but bringing children back to school would also be a difficult task,” Ali said, lamenting that thousands of children had been thrown out of school by their parents and the government bodies seemed not concerned. The authorities have no statistics about the dropout ratio and out-of-school children, he maintained.

He also pointed out that a number of low-fee schools had been closed because they were facing a financial crunch, adding that the owners of such schools would also be unable to provide the required facilities to the children. “The closure of schools during the coronavirus pandemic was unexpected and it has brought unexpected challenges for educators and parents too.”

SOPs’ implementation a challenge

Directorate of Inspection and Registration of Private Institutions Sindh (Dirpis) Registrar Rafia Javid said the federal and provincial governments had introduced SOPs for educational institutions; however, their implementation would be a challenge for the authorities concerned.

Dirpis officials were committed to ensuring the implementation of the SOPs at any cost and owners of schools were also conscious about the safety of the children, she remarked.

Parents paid for nothing

Expressing concerns over the reopening of schools, All Sindh Parents Association General Secretary Hamood-ur-Rab Jaffry said the government always took decisions without taking representatives of the parents on board.

He lamented that while the authorities took the decision to reopen the schools, the regulatory bodies did not visit the educational intuitions to check arrangements.

He said the government had decided to reopen the schools phase-wise but the gap between those phases was too little.

As per the government plan, the classes for ninth and 10th grades would commence on September 15 and the secondary classes would start on September 23, so the question is how the authorities would check the health conditions of millions of children within a few days in order to continue with the phase-wise reopening of the schools, he added.

Jaffry also highlighted some issues with making masks mandatory for the schoolchildren. He said that parents were bound to buy masks for the children but the children could not wear masks for many hours and it might also affect their health.

He said the authorities should have discussed this issue with health experts.

He added that in the developed countries, children had been given the option to choose between attending the campus or taking online classes but in Pakistan, the children could not have such a choice and they would have to go to their campuses.