Schools to conduct online learning from Nov. 26 till Dec. 24, with winter break to be scheduled from Dec. 25 till Jan. 10
Keeping in view the prevailing coronavirus situation nationwide, the government has decided to close all educational institutions from Nov. 26 till Dec. 24, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood announced on Monday, adding that winter break will occur from Dec. 25 till Jan. 10.
“Studies will continue from home,” he told a press conference after a meeting of the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), adding that in areas where online facilities did not exist, children will be assigned homework. “No in-person classes will be conducted during this time,” he stressed but said teachers would be required to continue attending schools in line with their administration’s policies.
Mahmood said if the situation visibly improved, all educational institutions would reopen from Jan. 11, adding this would be determined during a meeting of the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference in the first week of January. He said that all exams were being postponed in light of this decision. Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan said that this would not apply to entrance and recruitment exams such as MDCAT, adding that the government felt these could be safely managed with the use of face masks.
Mahmood said vocational education would not be halted, as such activities were occurring in factories and practical settings. He said a third of all university hostel students could continue to live in school accommodations so long as they did not have access to the internet at their homes.
The education minister said that current plans called on reducing summer vacations, and commencing the next school year from August—not the currently scheduled April—to enable students to complete their course work. He said the educational ministers were also proposing delaying board exams till May or June.
Earlier, Dr. Sultan said that the national positivity ratio for the past 24 hours had been recorded at around 7 percent. “Our concern is that if we don’t act now, then the spread could threaten to overwhelm our healthcare facilities in the near future,” he said. “We feel these decisions are the best way to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country,” he added.
In a press conference, Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas said that in his view, school closures should be accompanied by additional restrictions on children barring them from entering shopping malls, or going to parks. “I also requested the forum to allow individual provinces to decide on their exams schedules keeping in view their needs,” he added.
He said the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference would reconvene in the first week of January to decide if it was safe to reopen educational institutions from Jan. 11. “I was never in favor of closing educational institutions, but there has been a drastic increase in infections numbers over the past two weeks,” he added.
The All Pakistan Private Schools’ Federation rejected the government’s decision, claiming in a statement that it would not allow schools to be closed again. Terming online learning a “flop,” it said schools would remain with standard operating procedures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
On Sunday, Mahmood had announced that he would announce the results of the education ministers’ conference in a press conference. “I will be holding a press conference at 12:30 p.m. after the conclusion of the meeting in which all decisions would be announced,” he had said.
The last Inter-Provincial Education Ministers’ Conference had been held on Nov. 16 in which it was decided to wait and observe the coronavirus trends for a week before deciding whether to close educational institutions for early and extended winter vacations to curb the spread of the virus.
The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) had, last week, recommended early and extended vacations in all educational institutions but left the final decision to the education ministers. Planning Minister Asad Umar, who also heads the NCOC, had said that the government would make up for the winter break by reducing next year’s summer vacations to a month or less.
Punjab’s Raas had already announced that he would prefer to shutter institutions with reported infections—a kind of “smart” lockdown—instead of closing all institutions. Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani, had meanwhile said the provincial government did not want to have any winter break.
The Balochistan government last week announced that it would commence winter vacations from the first week of December, adding that these would continue until the end of January.