Federal and provincial education ministers are set to put their heads together once again and decide what to do about reopening educational institutions across the country. All such institutions were closed on the advice of the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) from 26 November 2020 to 10 January 2021. But now it seems that the high number of infections and deaths from the second wave of the coronavirus, as well as the news about the new, more easily transmissible variant making its way to Pakistan, is forcing authorities to push the date of reopening further ahead.
This is a very serious matter of course since many of the problems brought about by the pandemic, especially the widespread economic recession, will go away slowly but the break in students’ education across the world could make it something of a generational problem. Both schools and households are doing what they can to manage the situation as well as possible, but in countries like Pakistan where internet penetration is still low and poverty levels are very high a very large number of children are just left outside the loop for no fault of theirs. Therefore the urgency expressed by different sections of society, not just schools since they also have business interests to protect, shows that there is a growing desire for schools to open sooner rather than later.
That does not mean anybody wants to compromise in any way on the safety of the children or the school staff. Education has thus presented one of the biggest problems to governments across the world. For far too many countries, children dropping out of schools also automatically translates into yet higher poverty and crime levels. These are the kind of issues that will confound administrations long after vaccines provide a credible level of defence against the coronavirus. Education ministers due to meet tomorrow to discuss the matter have their work cut out for them. For there are no easy choices here. That is why their focus would naturally be on choosing the option that will minimise the risk of transmission most forcefully. And if that means keeping all educational institutions shut till the storm lightens up a bit, then so be it.