ISLAMABAD    -   As government is all set to re-open educational institutions after a gap of six months due to COVID-19 situation, parents and teachers have expressed concerns over complete implementation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and dubbed it as ‘cosmetic’ measures, The Nation learnt on Friday. 

Parents and teachers also stressed for strengthening the alternative model of online education until country is declared safe from the pandemic.  

Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training (FE&PT) Shafqat Mahmood earlier this week announced stage-wise re-opening of the educational institutions in the country from September 15. 

Ministry of FE&PT and Higher Education Commission (HEC) have directed the educational institutions to prepare SOPs and ensure their implementation during educational activities. However, parents and teaching faculty viewed that complete implementation on SOPs would be impossible according to the ground realities. 

There are around 25 public/private sector universities, 1242 private schools and 423 public sector schools and colleges functional in the city. In around 1690 institutions, providing education from primary to PhD level, there are approximately above 620000 students. 

The ministry shared fourteen points mentioning minimum standards to be followed in the public sector schools and colleges of the city. The minimum standards along with wearing of masks and disinfection measures, screening of everyone also include maintaining ventilation mechanism to be followed in the classrooms. 

Hamid Khan, president of the parents association of private schools talking to The Nation said that parents despite of their repeated requests to the ministry and educational forums were not taken on board before taking the decision of re-opening of the institutions. 

“These SOPs look good on paper but will be difficult to follow practically when institutions will be opened.”  He said that no clear direction had been given that how much minimum distance needed to be maintained while travelling in school buses and long queues outside schools. 

He said, “Some private schools are also taking undertaking from parents that they will not be responsible for the health of their children, while for parents their children’s health is above than education.” 

He said that several developed countries had closed schools after making attempts to open them.  “Parents are not satisfied with the upcoming situation and the government must work on strengthening the online education during this pandemic,” he said. 

Meanwhile, president of Private Schools Association Zofran Elahi said that SOPs had been developed and would be strictly implemented in the institutions. Private schools in the city would follow 16 SOPs including developing and displaying the seating plan with three feet distance, number of students in class, temperature measuring, use of thermal guns, no sports and assemblies and wearing of masks as well. 

A senior teacher said that FDE’s SOPs for educational institutions showed that school/colleges would have classes capped at 10-15 students. He said there was no plan of FDE how to reduce the class size from 70-80 to 10-15 per class. With no change in infrastructure and number of teachers, how a single class can be divided into 4-5 groups observing the SOPs? 

Referring to space requirements, he said every school and college would be short of space if all students came to their respective institute. “If all students are accommodated it could exponentially increase the number of COVID-19 cases because young students in schools and colleges are mostly careless and avoid to maintain social distancing with their peers.” He said for teachers it would be impossible to manage enforcement of SOPs for students during the entire teaching hours. 

Tahir Mahmood an Assistant Professor at a local college said, “Many schools lack access to basic hand washing facilities like soap and water. Hand washing sites should be set up at various places in the institutions as frequent hand washing with soap and water was a key measure to avoid COVID-19.  

Vice Chancellor (VC) University of Quaid-i-Azam (QAU) Prof. Dr. Mohammad Ali Shah informed The Nation that university administration had prepared its SOPs and all hostels would be opened also. He said classes would be divided and hybrid model of education would be followed to continue educational activities. He said it was not possible to call selective students in hostels.