After urging educational institutions to reopen “at any cost” the education ministries are drawing back and divesting themselves of responsibility—a day after universities opened across the country.

Minister of Education and Literacy of Sindh Saeed Ghani, in a press briefing today, said that schools in Sindh that are ill-prepared for maintaining COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) should remain closed for some time. It is not possible for the government to check SOPs in every school, so parents should also keep a check, he said. He added that the government may be compelled to close schools again if COVID-19 cases show an increase.

In the schools opened in Sindh, the COVID-19 positivity rate is 5.9%, the minister admitted. He said that the Sindh government has conducted 11,845 COVID tests in educational institutes, of which 546 tests came positive. He added that four colleges had closed due to a rise in positive cases.

This admission came the day after all schools and colleges across Pakistan were advised to reopen by the federal government. University and primary school students resumed physical classes from Monday, February 1, while students of grades 9 to 12 resumed regular classes on January 18.

Yesterday, Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mehmood urged those private universities that had not fully reopened despite government permission should “reconsider” the decision.

Students and parents express concern

Many parents The Correspondent spoke to were alarmed by the high positivity rates in schools, and wondered if the process of opening educational institutes had been rushed.

Ms Ghani, whose six-year-old studies in a private school in Karachi’s Clifton area was furious: “They told us everything would be okay and all SOPs would be followed, but a 5.9% positivity rate in schools is too much. Pakistan’s positivity rate is only 3.1%. Imagine that!”

Bushra Rizwan, whose two primary school children have just re-joined their school in PAF’s Chapter school in Malir, had a far more pragmatic view of the situation.

“We can’t blame the government or the schools—this is a disease, and anyone can get it from anywhere,” she said. “Of course, we are worried, but thankfully the school has taken extensive precautions, they have masks and sanitization stations everywhere.”

“But ours is a very exclusive school, and not every school is like that,” she added. “Almost half of the other parents I know have pulled their children from school, because the risk is just too high. This is a problem because online classes have stopped now that physical classes are back on, so they don’t have a choice in many cases.”

Mehrunisa, an A-level student in Lahore, confirmed the lack of choice she and her fellow students have.

“We have a decent system. The batch has been divided into groups and we do one week on, one week off; it allows us to keep social distance,” she said. “But we have to come to school. Some classes are only being given physically, and we have to attend them or risk losing our grade.”

Another closure?

With the Higher Education Commission (HEC) refusing to formulate plans for online examinations and education ministries asking educational institutes to do what they think is right, teachers, students, and parents have been left to their own devices in the pandemic. As the cases continue to rise in schools, speculation of another closure in the near future might not be too far-fetched.


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