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Pakistan Announces Revised Schedule to Reopen Educational Institutions

by Newsweek Pakistan

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood. YouTube

Grades 9-12 to resume in-person classes from Jan. 18; grades 8 and lower as well as higher education institutions to reopen from Feb. 1

The schedule to reopen educational institutions will remain unchanged for grades 9-12, federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood announced on Friday, but grades 8 and lower will remain closed for an additional week and will reopen with higher education institutions on Feb. 1 in light of the ongoing second wave of the novel coronavirus.

In a press conference after a meeting with provincial education ministers and health officials, he said that everyone involved with the education sector was aware that closing them was having an adverse impact on children. “This has reduced leaving levels of children; education has been very damaged in the past 8-9 months,” he said. “But health must be considered and we have to achieve a balance.”

Summarizing the government’s decisions about the education sector, he said that when it was decided to reopen all schools in September, the national positivity ratio had been around 1.9 percent. “Critical patients nationwide were around 570, while daily deaths hovered around 5,” he said. “When we reviewed the situation in November, the positivity ratio had climbed past 14 percent, while critical patients were over 1,900,” he said, adding that daily deaths had also climbed to more than 50, while infections were touching 3,000. “In light of all this, we decided to close educational institutions because health officials had said that this would had a visible impact on infection rates,” he said.

Even now, said Mehmood, the positivity ratio was comparatively high at 6.1 percent. “Critical patients have also continued to rise, while daily deaths are around 45,” he said, noting that cases were still rising every day.

“In today’s meeting, we decided that grades 9-12—who have to prepare for exams, which all governments have decided would be required for promotion—would commence studies from Jan. 18 as already announced,” he said. “For grades 8 and lower, we have decided to delay their reopening by a week till Feb. 1. Higher education institutions will also reopen at the same date, as stated earlier,” he added.

The education minister said the government was also considering whether to implement a targeted approach to resuming in-person education. “Different cities have different infection rates; major urban centers have greater rates of infection, while rural areas have less,” he said. “Next week, the National Command and Operation Center will deliberate on the data and decide whether cities with high rates of infection should not reopen schools from Feb. 1,” he said, stressing that if this measure were implemented, areas with high rates of infection would not reopen schools, while those with low rates would return to normal. “This decision will have no impact on grades 9-12,” he said.

“We will also decide next week if we should continue the practice of allowing children to visit schools once a week to collect coursework,” he added.

Pakistan had, in November, announced early and extended vacations in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, with educational institutions set to reopen from Jan. 10. This was subsequently delayed till Jan. 18 in light of a persistently high positivity ratio.

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