One of the earliest actions taken by the government to curb the spread of coronavirus cases was the closure of schools and educational institutions. After three months of what was effectively a halt in education, schools are meant to reopen by July as per schedule.

Certainly, the reopening of schools will pose several risks. By no means is the pandemic over or even diminishing in Pakistan. Teachers Unions in Punjab have objected to the proposal of reopening – with the Punjab Teachers Union (PTU) opining that owing to a large number of children, it would not be possible to seat children away from each other at a safe distance, in accordance with the SOPs. The PTU has also suggested to the government that due to lack of funds in government schools, there was no guarantee that all students would be provided with masks and sanitisers. Due to the already high social participation in markets and public spaces, the chances of students getting infected in schools are high.

Yet, just like the government calculated the immense financial costs that the lockdown would have on workers if markets remained closed, closure of schools will also take a large toll on not just the students of Pakistan, with millions of children who have had their education displaced, but also our overall society, which already has a severe learning crisis. Studies have shown that temporary closure of schools in the instance of terrorist attacks or natural disasters has led to the loss of several years of education. When only 27 percent of third-grade children in rural Pakistan can read a sentence in a local language, the drop-out rate of students will only increase if education is further halted. With severe inequality in access to technology, Pakistani schools cannot function on an online basis like the rest of the world can.

Thus schools must reopen eventually – but with care. Simple reliance on SOPs will not do – this must not be treated like all the other cases of lax protection measures – a restructuring of the educational system will need to take place.