Published On: Sat, Sep 19th, 2020
Published in Category: Karachi

Resumption of school classes for students of grade six until eight to be delayed by a week: Saeed Ghani

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KARACHI : Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani on Friday announced that the resumption of school classes for students of grade six until eight, scheduled for Monday, will be delayed by a week after schools were observed not fully following coronavirus health guidelines.

Addressing a press conference in Karachi, Saeed Ghani said the government realised the academic losses suffered by students due to closure of schools, but stressed that their health could not be compromised to compensate for the loss of learning.

“Despite our efforts, we are seeing a lot of flaws and violations, therefore we are delaying the second phase of resuming grade 6-8 classes,” he announced.

Saeed Ghani said the classes that were slated to resume on Monday (Sept 21) will be pushed back to Sept 28, if the situation concerning the virus improves.

“But if the situation remains the same, we might review the decision on Sept 28 again.”

Like other provinces, schools in Sindh were set to be reopened this month in phases after six months of closure due to the pandemic. In the first phase, classes nine and above were allowed to return to schools on Sept 15. Classes 6-8 were scheduled to resume on Sept 21 while primary and pre-primary classes were to resume on Sept 28.

Ghani said the objective behind the phase-wise approach was to not send all children back to school at once so that there was a smaller number of students in schools at a time. “And so that we would have a practical experience regarding the extent of implementation of the SOPs formulated,” he added.

But he said he observed violations of health guidelines and government rules regarding resumption of classes during his surprise visits to schools in various areas of Karachi.

The minister said while some private schools had made excellent arrangements to implement the standard operating procedures, violations were seen in some government schools and colleges. However, he added, although government schools had only allowed in students of grade nine or above, some private schools were sealed on Thursday for resuming classes for children as young as grade one or lower students. No SOPs were being applied on these young kids, he noted.

Ghani said he observed violations at schools even today during his visit to the city’s Central district, “even at some renowned schools which have numerous branches”.

“If the students were wearing masks, the chowkidar at the gate did not have one. Teachers were either wearing masks [pulled down to the chin] or they didn’t have one at all, and there was no distancing between students,” he told the presser.

The minister said these violations were being observed while only older students were attending schools at the moment, expressing the fear that the situation could be “terrible” when all students returned to schools by the end of the month.

According to Ghani, Sindh health department teams were visiting schools and taking samples for Covid-19 tests free of cost, including at private schools. A total of 14,544 tests have been conducted so far and of them, 3,336 reports have been received. Out of 3,336 results, 89 tests (2.4 per cent) have returned positive, he added.

Assuming 2.4pc as the positivity rate, there could be 360 positive cases among 15,000 tests, Ghani said, terming this a cause of concern because younger classes were yet to return to schools.

“If this situation prevails, it is not an encouraging situation. We took this difficult decision [to reopen schools] with the hope that the school and civil administrations along with parents would ensure implementation of the SOPs,” he said.

The minister said while it was possible that the administrations showed negligence, “but we can’t expect parents to be negligent”.

“Until parents don’t create awareness among their children regarding SOPs, we won’t be able to get children to follow them,” he added, blaming parents for young kids not wearing masks.

Ghani said during the postponement of one week, it will be assessed how successful parents, administration and government are in ensuring SOPs are followed in schools.

“If we are not successful and the number of cases continues to rise, we will further review our decisions but the Sindh government will not compromise on the health of its students.”

To a question of why the PPP chairman was “taking out rallies” at a time when the coronavirus situation is so precarious, Ghani clarified that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari simply visited flood-affected areas, such as Mirpurkhas and Hyderabad. “This was also an important task. He did not take out any rallies.”

“Yes, marketplaces and cinemas are open, rallies and religious processions were carried out. But you have a choice in the matter. When it comes to schools, many children simply do not have the choice to not attend.

“When a child has to go to school, it is the government’s responsibility as well as that of parents to decide what is better for him,” he stressed.

In a meeting of the provincial education ministers earlier this month, it was decided that a phase-wise reopening of schools starting September 15, would be carried out.

The ministers, according to sources, proposed that the schools would open in phases starting with Grade 9 and up, as well as all universities, on September 15, which then were reopened as scheduled.

Classes 6th to 8th were to resume on September 21. Pre-primary and primary classes have been scheduled to resume on September 30.

Earlier on Friday, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) said 10 educational institutions in KP and three in Sindh have been shut down for flouting the standard operating procedures laid down by the government to safeguard against the spread of COVID-19.

In the last 24 hours, 752 new coronavirus infections have been reported across the province, besides nine deaths.