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January 18, 2021

The school debate

Editorial

 
January 18, 2021

There are no easy answers to whether schools should reopen or not. And that is true for not just Pakistan but has been a debate around the globe in these pandemic times. The issue is back in our conversations after the announcement by Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood that the government has planned a phase-wise reopening of educational institutes in the country from January 18 (today). As per the plan, in the first phase – starting today – classes for Grades 9-12 will be restarted. This will be followed by the NCOC looking at Covid data in a week and seeing if primary schools etc can be reopened in February. Schools across the country had reopened in September, 2020 after having had to suspend classes in March last year. In November, educational institutions were again asked to close sessions due to a strong Covid resurgence in the country.

We have seen the same debate around the world: do we send children to school and risk infection or do we keep children at home and risk their futures? To some extent, online classes have of course taken up the mantle of educating our children. But in Pakistan that meant very little – except for the tiny one percent whose children go to schools where online classes were even possible. The rest of the country has seen small schools struggle to even think of starting online classes, and parents struggling to ensure devices and internet access for their children.

In the midst of all this, the reopening of schools may for some be a welcome decision. And, without trivialising what they go through or what our country’s children stand to lose in terms of access to education and future course of life, it must also be remembered that there is still a pandemic in the air. It is still affecting people. There are still homes that have seen death due to Covid. Parents are rightly concerned about the loss in learning. However, one of the things we need to recognize is the many factors that go into ensuring a Covid-appropriate school environment – and whether our schools have the resources to follow and ensure all SOPs. Most schools lack the space to socially distance substantially enough to stop the spread of the virus. There is also the danger of younger children just not understanding the importance of wearing a mask, which is why student-teacher ratio is important (and another missing factor in our country). All this said and done, there are still no easy answers here – especially when everything else seems to be business-as-usual: (small) weddings, markets, businesses. The only ray of hope this year is the vaccine option, and we hope Pakistan too gets to start vaccinating its people very soon so that our children are back in school without these anxious debates having to take place each time.