Federal education minister says provincial governments to decide which districts to implement measures on the basis of high incidence of COVID-19 infections
A meeting of education ministers from all federating units of Pakistan, held under the aegis of the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), on Wednesday decided to keep closed until April 11 all educational institutions in areas with high incidence of the coronavirus.
Announcing the decision, federal education minister Shafqat Mahmood said that the meeting had reviewed the previous announcement of early spring vacations in several districts of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces. “To clarify, our decisions are applicable on all educational institutions,” he stressed, “including universities, madrassas, academies, and schools.”
He said that in light of the current third wave of the pandemic, with the national positivity ratio nearly doubling in the past week, the NCOC had decided that schools in “selected areas” would remain shut until April 11. “The provincial governments will announce the areas in which the schools should remain shut,” he said, noting that the earlier announcement had targeted 10 districts of Punjab and 9 districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
In a posting on Twitter, Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas announced that all public and private schools of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Multan, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Sargodha, and Sheikhpura would remain closed until April 11. Similarly, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government announced that educational institutions in Peshawar, Mardan, Charsadda, Swabi, Malakand, Swat, Nowshera, Buner, and Derpain would remain shut until April 11.
Mahmood clarified that during the closure schools were free to have administration and teachers visit the facilities if required. “We will be reviewing the situation daily,” he said. “We are aware that the closure of educational institutions has great impact on education of students, but their health is more important right now,” he added.
Referring to promotion exams, which the education ministry had earlier announced were necessary to advance grades, Mahmood said the matter had been carefully discussed. “The unanimous view was that the board exams of 9-12 grades would be conducted per schedule from May through July,” he said, adding that it was not possible to promote students on the basis of past grades as had been done last year.
On the Cambridge exams for O and A Level students, Mahmood said that the government would conduct a meeting with the U.K. officials and determine if these could be delayed for a few weeks. “I do not want to comment on this further until the discussions have taken place,” he said.
“Hopefully the situation will improve by April 11. But, if needed, provincial governments can implement in-person classes in a staggered manner,” he said.
The education minister also warned educational institutions that were not adhering to the government’s guidelines of legal action. “We have heard reports especially of academies that are continuing to stay open,” he said, adding that anyone found violating the current closure order would be immediately sealed.
Mahmood concluded his press conference by announcing that educational ministers would meet once more on April 7 to review the prevailing situation of the pandemic. “If there is any development before that, I will address media on it,” he added.
Pakistan is currently in the midst of a third wave of the pandemic, reporting more than 3,000 daily infections of the coronavirus for the past week. Authorities have urged the public to continue social distancing and adhering to government-issued guidelines to ensure the country’s healthcare infrastructure does not become overwhelmed by critical patients requiring ventilators.