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EDITORIAL: As the risk of Covid-19 infections has reduced somewhat, the good news for students and parents is that educational institutions are to reopen after a hiatus of nearly two months. Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood held a meeting on Monday with his provincial counterparts, where the participants made several important decisions to move ahead in a cautious, phased manner. The first to resume classes would be the students of classes IX to XII on January 18. The primary section up to class VIII would reopen from January 25, which makes sense considering that people so young are not careful about observing SOPs. For some inexplicable reason, however, colleges and universities are to restart functioning from February 1. The entire schedule though has rightly been kept flexible depending on the Covid-19 situation. A final decision is it to be taken at a review meeting on January 14 or 15.

Briefing journalists, federal minister Mehmood said teachers and administrative staff would start working form January 11. But in a rather confusion statement he added that schools could also start online classes from that date. As a matter of fact, the “elite” schools have already been imparting on-line instructions. A vast majority of the pupils in the mainstream public sector schools do not have access to that facility. And aside from technical difficulties, the teachers also lack online teaching tools. Hence, for a vast majority of students in-person leaning is the only option. They should be the main focus of government attention. As regards examinations, it may be recalled that when last year in the wake of Covid-19 surge, the government decided to promote students without exams, it had created a lot of controversy. It remains debatable whether it was right to allow an entire academic year go to waste or let the students move to the next grade on the basis of attendance. This time though there will be such concession, as the minister said in a tweet that no student will be promoted without exams. And to help students make up for the lost time the board exams are to be deferred till May-June.

Nonetheless, there is no mention of a vital SOP: social distancing. As it is, the classrooms in schools, especial public sector ones, overflow with pupils. That obviously increases the risk of Covid-19 infections. It is imperative therefore to offset that risk as far as possible. A simple but effective solution would be to have students attend classes on alternate days; or better still, to run classes in two shifts. That would put extra burden on teachers. They should not resent it. After all, unusual challenges call for unusual responses. The pandemic is not going to last forever. If things go on course a general vaccination drive should start around the middle of this year. All concerned surely can put in a little extra effort during these trying times.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021