The National Command Operation Center (NCOC) on Thursday recommended that all stakeholders involved in the expected reopening of educational institutes follow a top to bottom approach by initiating the opening up of universities first and then following with the rest of the institutes on a "rotation basis".
A press release issued by the NCOC said that the body's morning session "focused on a single point agenda of the opening of educational institutions across Pakistan". It added that representatives of educational institutions, including public, private and seminaries, were invited so that all stakeholders could be taken on board. It added that the meeting focused on opening up various institutions by developing consensus-based decisions on the matter.
The meeting was also attended by focal persons of all provinces, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan through a video link.
The statement said that the centre briefed the participants about the current COVID-19 situation in Pakistan, the region and the world.
"Participants were informed about risk and challenges involved after opening of educational institutions as it involved children of all ages," said the statement. It added that the meeting was told that the "challenges" that the country may face once institutes open were developed after "hectic and lengthy consultations" that the NCOC held with international experts, academia and think tanks working on the opening up of the educational sector.
According to the statement, the NCOC suggested its strategy to participants about the gradual opening up of educational institutions based on "best practices and input from various experts".
"Educational institutions be opened on top to bottom approach (university, college, high schools) on rotation basis. Timings of various institutions be staggered and various activities which involve contact and mass gatherings, including co-curricular activities, be suspended" recommended the NCOC.
The body also urged that the educational institutions will have to ensure that all COVID-19 protocols are followed and asked them to prepare them before the final decision, which is expected to be taken on September 7.
The centre said that the tracking, tracing and testing strategy followed by the government will curb the spread of the virus.
"For this, enhanced testing of symptomatic children, teachers and school staff will be very beneficial," recommended the NCOC.
Meanwhile, all provinces, AJK and GB apprised also the forum about the steps being taken by the for the reopening of schools which included consultations with various educational institutions in their respective areas including teachers training and COVID-19 awareness.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan said that even though the decision to reopen educational institutes will be taken through consensus, the NCOC and health ministry will "intimately monitor the disease statistics on daily basis, particularly to assess the likely impact of tourism and Muharram on the opening of educational institutions".
On the other hand, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood reiterated that the final decision regarding the reopening of schools will be taken in the meeting scheduled on September 7.
"Basic challenge to open educational institutions [lies] in two areas, that is what are [the] indicators for opening, and what measures are taken to ensure that health guidelines ensuring use of face mask, social distancing and hygiene measures," Mahmood told the participants about the challenges regarding the reopening.
On the other hand, representatives from various institutions thanked the NCOC for inviting them and consulting them in the process. The also assured the forum of complying with the health guidelines in schools, particularly wearing of face mask, social distancing and handwashing protocols.
Decision to reopen educational institutions on Sept 7: Shafqat
Last week, Mahmood had said that the Inter-Provincial Ministers Conference would decide about the countrywide reopening of educational institutions on September 7 after examining the incidence of COVID-19.
“The education sector will be reopened in line with the recommendations of the Federal Health Ministry, which will also develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the functioning of schools and colleges,” the minister told a presser here.
The Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments have already issued the Standard Operating Procedures for (SOPs). However, Sindh and Balochistan are yet to issue their SOPs for the reopening of educational institutes