Resuming education

June 6, 2021

Educational institutes reopen as coronavirus cases dip

The federal government’s announcement to reopen educational institutions and a new formula for giving examinations for secondary and intermediate classes has drawn mixed reactions from students, parents and teachers. While most students seem pleased with only having to be examined in elective subjects, some of them want to answer only multiple choice questions. There is another group of students that wants to be promoted without any examination at all.

“Students in some areas are trying to influence our decision, but I reiterate that no one will be promoted without an examination,” Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood told The News on Sunday.

Earlier on May 29, some students had staged a protest demonstration at Faizabad against in-person exams. The protesters had blocked the road and some of them had damaged some vehicles.

On June 2, Mehmood, after chairing a meeting, announced that ninth and tenth grade students will only have to take examinations for four elective subjects: mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics and computer sciences. “No student would be given grades without examinations this time,” he said.

For intermediate classes, a formula has been hammered out under which the students of classes 11 and 12 will have to appear in the examinations for the elective subjects only, said Mehmood.

The education minister said that the exams were to be conducted from June 24. “However, now boards of intermediate and secondary education have been directed to hold examinations after July 10 for the convenience of students. Examinations for Classes 10 and 12 will be conducted first, from July 10, followed by examinations for Classes 9 and 11.”

Talking to The News on Sunday, Ali Meezan, a 12th grade student at Forman Christian College, said: “I am not satisfied with this decision. I am an ICom student and some of my subjects need in-person coaching that we did not get because of the college’s closure and online classes.” He said that he had everything needed to attend the online classes and still did not grasp some of the topics in major subjects. “The government must think about those who could not take online classes because of technological issues. How can they get good grades in such a situation?” He said that he could only take on-campus classes for 45 days during the academic year. The rest of the days were spent struggling to attend online classes. “I guess most of the students did not grasp the subjects like me because I or my teacher would often face poor internet problems. Either the board should use MCQ-based papers or hold the examinations online,” he said.

Muhammad Rizwan, a pre-medical student at a private college, said: “My parents spent hundreds of thousands of rupees on my education this year, but I got nothing out of this bargain. What I need is proper guidance from teachers for a thorough understanding of physics, chemistry and biology which I did not get in the online classes. Under the present circumstances, I doubt that I will be make it to a medical college though I am working hard.”

Rizwan has serious reservations against the decision to not hold examinations in the compulsory subjects. “The compulsory subjects, English and Urdu, help some of us improve our overall grades.”

Laraib Zehra, a student of bachelors at a public college in Lahore, told TNS, “I am very happy with the decision because the in-person examination will give me better grades. I am well prepared and I am good at my elective subjects like fine arts.” Laraib said the government should not delay the examination as that will delay the academic years and admissions.

Most parents are also happy over the examination but angry over the long closure of the institutions.

Farhat Abbas, father of a student, said, “I paid two hundred thousand rupees to a renowned college, affiliated with a chartered university for the first-year classes of my son. He went to college for five weeks only. The government had promised that a policy to give concession in fee would be formulated and implemented across the board but it did not keep its word. Now, I am paying additional money to private tutors for my son to prepare him for the upcoming examinations.” He said the government should have opened the college for three months before giving examinations.

“I am not satisfied with this decision. I am an ICom student and some of my subjects need in-person coaching that we could not get because of the college’s closure and online classes. The government must think about those who could not take online classes because of technological issues. How can they get good grades in such a situation?” says Ali Meezan, a 12th grade student at Forman Christian College.

Earlier on May 19, the National Command and Operation Centre had allowed reopening of educational institutions with positivity rates of less than 5 percent.

Punjab welcomed the decision and reopened universities and colleges from May 31, while schools from June 7. Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas said all schools in the province, may it be private or public, would reopen from June 7, Monday, in a staggered manner.

Talking to TNS, Murad Raas said: “We are ensuring that every teacher and invigilator would be vaccinated for which we are establishing special vaccination centres.”

According to a notification from the School Education Department, only 50% students shall attend classes on a given day. “No student shall attend the school for two consecutive days. All concerned authorities shall ensure observance and compliance of COVID-19 SOPs in letter and spirit. The decision was taken in line with the recommendations of the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference (IPEMC),” the notification stated.

“There are 16,000 teachers and 4,000 non-teaching staff in the province. We are trying to complete the vaccination of teachers before reopening schools from June 7,” Raas said. “I request all teachers of public and private schools and non-teaching staff to get vaccinated before June 7 because we are going to open schools on June 7,” the minister said, adding that the provincial government would open similar vaccination centres in the nine divisional headquarters in order to inoculate the maximum number of teachers. He also said that this year, summer vacations in schools would be for only two to three weeks as students have suffered a lot due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has allowed resumption of 10th and 12th Class teaching from June 31.

Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho has said, however, that schools in the province will remain closed until they were certain that coronavirus cases were declining. “This is a numbers game. We have to proceed with caution until the numbers improve. We don’t want to risk the lives of our children, their parents and relatives. So schools will remain closed until we are certain that the numbers (of coronavirus cases) is decreasing and won’t increase again.”

“The inoculation campaign for teachers and educational staff is also being expedited and plans are being discussed with the Education Department on how to vaccinate every staff member so that students don’t get infected. We want to ensure [for schools] that there is complete health protection and a child doesn’t get infected with the virus at school.”

Khurram Shehzad, a spokesman of the Punjab University, told TNS: “A meeting of the University Deans’ Committee, chaired by the vice-chancellor, has made some important decisions about functions of the PU after reopening.” He said the MS, MPhil and PhD research and coursework would resume on-campus from June 7. “All the on-line exams already underway will continue on-line,” he added. Shehzad said that BS 2nd semester classes would resume on campus from June 7 while the online exams of BS 4th and 6th semesters would stay online. “The heads of departments would inform them about practical tests. BS 8th semester and MA/MSc 4th semester students will be allowed to complete their research/practical work on-campus from Monday.”

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and researcher. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher

Resuming education