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November 24, 2020

Education disruption

Editorial

 
November 24, 2020

At a meeting of all education ministers, chaired by Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood, on Monday, it was decided to close down all schools from November 26 till Dec 24, followed by winter vacations till January 10. The decision comes as health experts have noted an 82 percent increase in positivity cases at schools. This means that, once again, from November 26 to December 24, classes will be held online, making it difficult for children from some schools, including public-sector schools, to follow them. It also means that there will be a disruption in learning as online teaching has proved to be difficult for teachers who are not trained in this new form of education.

On the other hand, it is essential that we protect our children from Covid-19 and prevent them from becoming carriers who may remain asymptomatic themselves, but who bring the virus home to families, including older members. The issue is a global one. In the UK, some schools have been shut down in certain areas of the country while others are being reviewed. Many classes have gone online in the US and in European countries. Essentially, the thinking is that life is more important than education, which may be lost for a few months. That time can be regained by redoubling efforts, cancelling summer vacations or putting in place other measures. Life however cannot be brought back. In such circumstances, it is perhaps safer to close down schools, especially when we have a situation in which coronavirus cases are rising sharply and claiming more and more lives every day. The federal education minister has said that all exams will resume after January 15 and will remain postponed till then, with the exception of the MCAT exam, necessary for entrance to medical colleges and some other professional exams.

The step had seemed to be inevitable for some time. Parents are concerned about the loss in learning. This is a valid reason to worry. But at the same time, we need to recognize that notably in our country where it is not easy to enforce SOPs and ensure that each and every school is following them, such a closure was necessary. Schools also lack the space to socially distance substantially enough to stop the spread of the virus. And at several schools in Sindh and also Lahore teachers had acquired the virus from their pupils. There is for the moment, no other answer but to close down schools. We can only hope that next year, when the situation is reviewed in the first week of January, things will have improved and we will be closer to acquiring the vaccine, which may be the only means to stop this virus in its tracks. That said, it will make no sense to shut down schools and continue with everything else like business-as-usual: weddings, markets, businesses – where SOPs are equally lax. The government now needs to clarify and rethink the way all public spaces are continuing.