Education is certainly one of those areas that have been most affected by the current global crisis. A year ago, no one would have thought in their wildest dream that the novel coronavirus would take such a heavy toll on the educational institutes. According to a report written by Rebecca Winthrop in Brookings, “the level of education disruption that has occurred by global crisis today is far greater than the Spanish Flu pandemic and World War”. Today, more than 180 countries around the world have temporarily put closure on educational institutions to prevent the spread of COVID19. The measure of closing schools somehow worked in many countries as it slowed down the spread of COVID19, but how effectively has it worked in Pakistan?
The first case of COVID19 in Pakistan emerged in late February requiring the government to take some robust steps and impose a lockdown. Educational intuitions were slammed shut on 14 March initially for fifteen days. However; it went on to remain shut for the next six months while all other activities in the country were resumed. Sighting a little improvement after imposition of a smart lockdown around the country, the PTI government ordered the opening of institutions from 15 September. Unfortunately, a surge in cases and fear of the second wave again forced the institutions to close on 26 November after staying opened for less than two months. Here we are – the students and the education staff – yet again in a state of bewilderedness. The students’ future is at stake with the academic year and exams keep getting postponed until no further notice.
Why is it that shutting down the educational institutes is always government’s first solution to battle the Covid situation? There is no distrust in the fact that it is significant to take such decisions for the safety of students and their families. But how can this action promise safety while the halls, malls, and restaurants (outdoors) are functional? As Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas rightfully said, “If we have to control one thing, if we have to curtail it, then it is very important to look at other things as well. If schools are being shut down, the government should also restrict children from visiting shopping malls and parks.”
The question that keeps occurring in the mind of students – especially those awaiting admissions or in their final years – is that ‘How much situation has been controlled by the government after only shutting down the institutions completely’, ‘Are we sure that we will not have to witness the new strain of COVID19 like the UK?’ (God forbids). No, we are not, because even after the closure of educational institutes and students learning from home, the situation is still dreadful with cases mounting with each passing day.
Initially, it was presumed that the pandemic, somehow, is diminishing the trend of lavish weddings in Pakistan. Nonetheless, it was during the pandemic that the country got to witness some of the grand wedding ceremonies to be held in Pakistan such as the Jalal Sons & Master Tiles Wedding. The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) issued a notification saying that indoor weddings can take place for only two hours with all the standard operating procedures. But the flaunt of extravagant weddings on social media, and the clear violation of SOPs such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance raises questions on the government’s double-talk.
Similarly, although the dine-ins at restaurants is banned a clear violation of SOPs could be seen taking place in the outdoor areas of the same restaurants. There might be very few restaurants whose staff asks their customers to wear a mask or sit at a distance. There is, definitely, no use of closing indoors if the situation outside is to be the same as indoors.
It was not too long ago that the Pakistani government was being praised globally when it decided to go for smart lockdown and curtailed the situation successfully by closing markets, shopping malls, offices, and large gathering in areas with potential COVID19 risk such as Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, and other major cities. Police were deployed at the potential areas to look after and regulate the situation. Today, on the contrary, when the situation is more critical, and the virus has claimed more than 1000 lives alone in the month of December, regulations and implementation of rules are to be seen nowhere. Making a rule is not the solution; implementing it and keeping a check on it is.
It’s ironic that the opening of educational institutes seems more threatening to the government than the marriage halls, malls, and restaurants – the places that are posing as a real hub for Covid. They are emerging as the greatest contributor to the Covid-19 spread. Just in the period of two months, the educational institutes appeared more organized and responsible than the other places combined.
To recapitulate, the closure of educational institutes alone cannot control the situation; it’s time that the government takes a realistic approach and comes up with immediate sharp policy responses. Instead of kowtowing down to protests by MHA (Marriage Hall Associations) or malls/restaurant owners, and coming up with vague policies, it needs to take a smart action that can benefit all and not a certain group. If the scenario stays the same, then, unfortunately, the new normal will students staying out of institutions while people enjoying huge outdoor gatherings, malls, and festivities.