Abdul Sattar

As the Corona Virus curve flattened in Pakistan, the federal government decided to reopen educational institutions across the country after a gap of about six months.
The educational institutions were reopened in three phases, i.e. universities, colleges and high school (only 9th and 10th grade) classes started from September 15. Similarly, middle school classes were reopened from September 23 while the primary classes started from September 30.
The government, however, announced strict SOPs for the educational institutions. The National Command Operation Center (NCOC) had suggested that all educational institutions should ensure social distancing among the students and advise them to wear face masks and use sanitizers.
On the contrary, both, the parents as well as the schools’ administrations face difficulties in implementing the SOPs in letter and spirit. A number of educational institutions have been sealed by the provincial education department after they failed to implement the SOPs chalked out by the government.
Hafiz Zubair, principal of a government higher secondary school in Mardan, says it is very difficult to implement the SOPs in public sector schools keeping in mind the strength of the students and shortage of class rooms.
“We are trying our best to implement the government SOPs. We make sure that every student entering the school premises, properly sanitizes his hands. For this purpose, we have made different points, each at a five-foot distance. Every student passes through a process before entering the school,” Zubair informs.
“It is a different practice as we have tasked ten teachers for this entire exercise. They have been entrusted with the responsibility to ensure social distancing among the students and focus on sanitization,” he maintains.

Besides, the principal further says, all the students have been told to wear mask otherwise, they wouldn’t be allowed to enter the school. “Yet, many students come to school without face masks. Instead of sending them back to home, we provide them masks from our own resources so that their time cannot be wasted,” he adds.
“Since, there is shortage of classrooms, we face difficulties in ensuring social distancing, but still we manage to follow it,” he explains.

“It is very difficult to convince children, special the minor ones, on wearing masks,” says Aqeela Sunbal

Officials at the education department know well about the limitations of the government schools but they are clueless how to cope this situation.
“It is a big challenge for all of us. We know about the strength of the students in government schools and it is really a difficult task to ensure social distancing. Out main focus is to keep the educational institutions open and to cope with the challenge, we have made it mandatory that all the teaching staff and the students should wear face masks,” says Musarrat Jabeen, assistant district officer for female education of the district Mardan.
“To ensure social distancing, the students have been advised to come on alternate days,” Jabeen adds.
The situation has also worried many parents as they fear their children may contract the deadly corona virus while in schools. We spoke to one such parent, Aqeela Sunbul, whose three children are studying in a school in Mardan.
She says she takes care of the Corona SOPs while sending her children to school but sometimes mothers face difficulties in preparing their kids. “It is very difficult to convince children, special the minor ones, on wearing masks,” she remarks and in the next breath, she adds, “we have to shoulder the responsibility and make our children understand about the vulnerability of the situation.”
A random survey in the educational institutions reveals that the average attendance of the students in schools is below par. Despite all these, many students are adamant in the face of Corona pandemic as they pledge to continue education.
“The threat is there. It has not finished. But we want to continue our education as we have lost our precious time due to the pandemic,” an resolute Sunbul, a local school student, remarks while talking to this scribe.
Situation is almost the same for the private educational institutions as both, the teachers and the parents face difficulties in properly implementing SOPs.
“Before the Covid – 19 pandemic, we used to accommodate all the students of the same class in one room but now, we cannot keep more than 20 students in a room otherwise the social distancing cannot be observed,” says Sanaullah, a teacher of a private educational institute.
Besides, he adds, it is also difficult for both the teachers and the students to wear face mask for long hours. However, he says, we will continue to follow the SOPs as we do not have any other option.
It merits recalling here that the government had announced to close all educational institutions including school, colleges, universities and religious seminaries in March to control the spread of Corona Virus.