Pakistan’s education minister says decision will be reviewed twice in next two months and can be revoked
All educational institutions in Pakistan, including schools, madrassas, universities and colleges, will be allowed to reopen from Sept. 15, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said on Thursday.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad following a meeting of the National Command and Operation Center, the minister said that this decision had been taken in light of a reduction in new coronavirus infections. “However,” he warned, “if the situation changes, we can decide to keep the schools closed even longer.”
Mahmood said that the education ministers of all provinces and the federal government would meet again in the first week of August, and then again in either the third week of August or the first week of September to review the prevailing COVID-19 situation. “If the situation worsens at any point, we will revise our decision,” he reiterated.
According to the information minister, the government would deliberate on standard operating procedures (SOPs) for educational institutions to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. He said several suggestions had been forwarded to the ministry, adding that these would all be considered and implemented keeping ground realities in mind.
“We are allowing universities to call Ph.D. students, who are few in number, to their laboratories for research work before Sept. 15,” he said, adding that the methodology for this return was being left up to the varsities. Similarly, he said, universities would be allowed to allow hostel residents back onto campus before Sept. 15. “This will be allowed for occupancy of up to 30 percent,” he said, adding that all returning staff and students would be subject to stringent health checks to ensure they were not sick.
Mahmood said educational institutions would also be allowed to summon teachers and administration staff for duty before schools had to formally reopen, adding that any cleaning/reopening operations and practice for SOPs should be conducted during this time.
Pakistan shut down all educational institutions in March after the first cases of COVID-19 emerged in the country. Subsequent lockdowns resulted in businesses and industries being similarly locked down to curb the spread of the deadly virus. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s disdain for lockdowns has resulted in most restrictions being lifted, but educational institutions have yet to be reopened.
Private schools’ organizations have in recent months protested for the right to be allowed to resume operations, with administrators saying they cannot afford to keep teachers on staff much longer if they are not teaching anyone during this time.