School closures will need to end eventually but the challenges ahead are daunting
On May 11, provincial governments of Sindh, Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan announced the ease in the lockdown that was imposed due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The move was taken after Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the lifting of the lockdown across Pakistan in phases.
Effective from Saturday, shopping centers and all construction related industries were allowed to begin operations during the scheduled timings set by the federal government. These were from early morning (Fajr) till 5:00pm in the evening for five days a week.
While many businesses have been allowed to reopen, educational institutions have been told to extend the closure instead, and asked to open only after the federal government’s directives.
In Punjab, educational institutions were ordered to extend the closure till July 15.
However, according to a post on the group Halaat Updates, the private schools federation in Lahore rejected the government’s decision.
“Private schools are being economically murdered,” said the President of All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, Kashif Mirza, in a statement, demanding Prime Minister Imran Khan to announce an ‘education relief package’ for private schools.
He also asked the government to issue SOPs relating to schools and reopen them from June 1.
It is pertinent to note that the government announced the ease in the lockdown at a time when the cases of corona virus have exponentially increased in the country.
As of May 12, there are 32, 916 cases of COVID-19 with 11, 868 cases in Punjab alone. In fact, Pakistan recorded its highest single-day coronavirus-related deaths on May 12 with 42 fatalities.
In the wake of these alarming numbers, resuming academic institutions where a single classroom has at least 20 children sitting in close proximity to one another is worrisome.
Would schools be able to follow SOPs?
An important question for all academic institutions – private or public – to ponder upon is whether they will be able to effectively ensure that government-set SOPs are followed once allowed to reopen.
As mentioned above, any single classroom holds at least 20 students ranging from the ages of three to 18. While one can assume that teenagers are most likely to follow the guidelines for social distancing and sanitizing hands frequently, among other things, would younger children be as responsible?
In most primary classes teachers or helpers accompany students to washrooms and/or feed them during lunch hours if need be. Doing this requires physical contact, so would schools then be doing away with such procedures as well? If so, how do they ensure the care of younger students in the absence of these necessary protocols?
And let us not forget that parents of these same children have been found violating government guidelines that were laid out at the time of the PM’s announcement to reopen some businesses.
As shown in the video below, markets have been flooded by families shopping for Eid.
There is no denying the fact that children look up to their elders to set examples. But these elders themselves have not been taking the pandemic seriously or necessary precautions to stop its spread.
For the government to even consider reopening schools, it has to take into account the current situation and tread with caution.