Sindh delays resumption of classes for secondary students by a week over virus fears

Web Desk – September 18, 2020
Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani addresses a press conference in Karachi. — DawnNewsTV
Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani addresses a press conference in Karachi. — DawnNewsTV

“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.”

More schools sealed

Also on Friday, two schools in Punjab’s Nankana district were sealed after the emergence of Covid-19 cases there.

Four students and one teacher were confirmed to have the virus at the two schools, one private and one government.

In a statement, Punjab Minister for School Education Murad Raas said any school that emerges as a threat for the spread of the virus in the province would be sealed.

“No risk can be taken in this regard in any situation … the lives of students and teachers are of utmost value,” he added.

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