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ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood, on Wednesday, announced that educational institutes in the coronavirus-hit areas including Islamabad will remain closed till April 11.

The federal minister briefed the media regarding updates on the closure of schools after an important meeting of education and health ministers at the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).

The meeting was also attended by senior officials of the health and education department, and provincial education ministers.

"The next meeting of the education and health ministers will be held on the April 7 to review the whole situation and then take the decision accordingly," he added.

He said the educational institutions, which were closed earlier due to high positivity rates, will remain shut till April 11.

Provincial governments and authorities in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are empowered to take the final decision in this regard, keeping the latest situation in mind, he added.

Earlier this month, the NCOC had decided on a two-week spring vacation in educational institutions in 10 cities of Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Kashmir and Islamabad from March 15 till March 28.

The provinces later announced the areas where schools will remain closed.

Sindh announced that its schools will remain open as usual, with 50 percent students attendance allowed.

Areas other than Islamabad where schools will remain closed in Punjab are Lahore, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Multan, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Sargodha, and Sheikhupura.

In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where schools would remain close included Peshawar, Mardan, Charsadda, Swabi, Kohat, Lower Dir, Malakand, Swat, Nowshera, and Buner.

The minister said that the forum would continue to review the country's coronavirus outbreak.

"We know that closing down schools has caused harm to children's education, but we can't risk their health."

He said that board examinations would take place according to their timetable as giving students the "baseline" grade was no longer an option.

"We will also have a meeting with the Cambridge education board to see if we can move the exams forward," he said.

However, All Pakistan Private Schools and Colleges Association has rejected the government decision of further extending educational institutions closure and threatened to long march against its decision.

Following announcement by the government for extension in closure of academic institutions in the selected cities due to recent upsurge in Covid-19 cases, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has clarified that all universities shall continue to operate as per guidelines issued earlier except for the educational institutions, which were earlier closed due to the high positivity rate.

All such universities and higher education institutions shall remain closed for physical attendance until April 11, 2021.

However, academic activities will continue online during this period.

Moreover, on-going and pre-scheduled exams can be conducted as planned with complete observance of Covid-19 health and safety protocols.

Universities are advised to ensure strict observance of the Covid-19 minimum health and safety protocols i.e., thermal scanning, wearing facemasks, social distancing, availability and regular use of sanitisers and disinfection of buildings.

In addition, universities are advised to seek further guidance, if required from the chair or the provincial/ regional members of the Covid-19 Oversight Committee or email at [email protected].

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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