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Back to school: Pakistan students return to classrooms after months

Educational institutes were closed late February due to coronavirus

SAMAA | - Posted: Sep 15, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago
Posted: Sep 15, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Schools, colleges, universities, and madrassahs across Pakistan reopened on September 15 after almost six months.

The educational institutes are being opened in phases. Universities, colleges, and class IX and X will resume from September 15 (today). The students from class VI to VIII will be called to schools from September 23 and the students enrolled below class VI will be called in from September 30.

“Let us welcome our children and students on the first day of the opening of educational institutions,” said Dr Faisal Sultan, the special assistant to PM on health on Twitter. “Please don’t forget basic protective steps. Masks, reduced density in classes, hand hygiene. Parents, school administrators, teachers, students – all together.”

pakistan schools reopening dates
A picture of the coronavirus guidelines displayed outside the Model College for Boys in Islamabad. Photo: Online

Read: What Pakistan parents need to know about school reopening SOPs

All educational institutions across the country were closed in late February after coronavirus cases had spiked. According to reports, the cases are on a downward trend now. 

pakistan schools reopening date 2020
A man disinfects a classroom of a public women college’s building. Photo: Online

To compensate for the lost time, Pakistan’s educational institutions have decided that they will remain open on Saturdays and will have no winter vacations this year, according to a notification issued by the federal education ministry.

‘A new normal’

The turnout has been pretty low as some schools issued instructions to students to attend classes in groups. This has been done to ensure that students are able to practice social distancing.

Happy Home School has students coming in groups. A woman teacher said that students and staff will have to get used to this “new normal”.

pakistan schools reopening date 2020
A tanker of Water and Sanitation Agency disinfects the building of Fatima Jinnah Women University in Rawalpindi. Photo: Online

At many schools, desks have been set up for the thermal screening of all the students, teachers and other staff members. Sanitisers have been installed and kept at different places to ensure that everyone keeps sanitising their hands.

Online classes

Many educational institutes had moved to online classes to ensure that the learning of the students is not hampered by the lockdown. Holding classes on Zoom, a video and audio communication app, had its share of problems and some parents weren’t entirely comfortable with it.

“It was really difficult as sometimes we had internet or electricity problems,” said a parent. I know some people who didn’t even own laptops. “How do you expect such children to take online classes when they don’t even have basic facilities?”

Pakistan schools reopening date 2020
Workers put up posters of COVID-19 guidelines outside the Islamia College for Women in Lahore. Photo: Online

A father remarked that online classes don’t suit Pakistanis.

“Taking classes online was not the same as sending the children to school,” another parent remarked. “Our children should be used to going to schools and learn how to interact with others. They won’t learn much if they stay inside their houses.”

Some teachers, on the other hand, said that online classes were helpful but it doubled their work. “It felt as if we were working 24/7 during the lockdown,” remarked a teacher, adding that there were many parents who didn’t respect their space and would hound them with questions at odd hours. “As we are at home, so the school management and some parents expected us to work throughout the day rather than our usual 8am to 2pm timings,” the teacher added.

Online classes were definitely difficult but we need to know that technology is the future, said another teacher. “The parents were quite hesitant but they have to become more comfortable with it as virtual classrooms are possibly going to be the next big thing in schooling.”

SOPs for schools

On September 4, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood and Dr Faisal Sultan, the PM’s assistant on health, had issued a list of precautionary measures that all schools would have to follow when they reopen.

The instructions are listed below:

  • First secondary classes will start first after which primary classes will begin
  • The number of students in a class will be reduced, which means that half of the students will attend the session one day and the other half on the other day
  • Students will have to wear face masks at all times. Dr Sultan said that it’s better if the masks are made at home
  • Social distancing and washing hands should be strictly implemented
  • Sanitisers should be installed in schools and students should be encouraged to use them repeatedly
  • Every student attending school in-person will have to get tested for coronavirus in two weeks
  • Students with lower immunity levels should not be sent to school
  • Students will have lunch inside class during breaks

Mahmood had stressed the importance of the role of principals and teachers in the implementation of SOPs. “The student will be the responsibility of the school,” he said.

Will all students be tested?

When the government announced the SOPs for schools, there was some confusion about some of them, such as compulsory coronavirus tests. Many students and teachers were confused if all children will have to take the test or just a few of them.

Rawalpindi Deputy Commissioner Anwarul Haq said the condition for compulsory testing only applies to schools where the students live on-campus.

“I don’t think coronavirus tests should be compulsory for all,” he said. Imagine if students are in school for six hours on one day and then get tested the next day and then wait for their results. It will be very impractical, he added.

Punjab makes coronavirus tests compulsory

The Punjab government has decided that it will conduct pool tests for the novel coronavirus and increase the testing capacity of its laboratories as schools prepare to reopen.

The NCOC ordered authorities to conduct coronavirus tests in different schools in all the provinces, said Captain (retd) Muhammad Usman Younis, the secretary of Punjab’s Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department.

Sample testing will be conducted in 986 high-risk educational institutes in Punjab, he remarked, adding that samples will be taken from 383 education institutes after every 15 days.

Random sampling will be carried in 603 schools, colleges, and universities. Every day, 5,000 tests will be conducted which means 70,000 people will be tested in 14 days.

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