In the wake of surge in Covid-19 cases, the government on Monday announced that all public and private sector educational institutions in the country will remain closed from November 26 till January 10, 2021. The closure of educational institutions includes all seminaries as well. The announcement was made public at a joint presser by Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan. Shafqat Mahmood said that from November 26 the students will continue their studies online at their homes. “The home learning will continue from November 26 to December 24 and from December 25 till January 10, 2021 there will be winter vacations. Then from January 11, if the situation improves, we hope we can once again open all educational institutions,” he said. The decision was taken at a conference which was attended by all provincial education ministers. They met to review Covid-19 outbreak and to take a final decision on extended winter vacations for school students. While elaborating the decision, Shafqat Mahmood said, “When we say all educational institutions will close on November 26 and students will home learn, we mean all institutions without exception.” He explained that where possible, homework will be given out online while where this is not possible, the provincial governments will decide the course of action, adding that but all efforts will be made to make sure that education continues from home. He said a ‘review session’ will be held during the first week of January to gauge the country’s Covid-19 outbreak and a decision will be made accordingly. “God willing, educational institutions will reopen from January 11,” he hoped. The education minister stated that all examinations scheduled for December have been postponed. “Exams will commence from January 15.” He added that there were some “professional exams” that would, however, continue as per schedule. He said that entrance exams would be held as per routine. “The reason for this is that it is possible to manage standard operating procedures (SOPs) for such exams.” The education minister said this would also include exams for recruiting teachers. “However all exams for school students have been postponed till mid-January. Higher education universities will commence online learning and their hostels will be allowed to house students up to one third of their capacity.” He also clarified that that institutes for vocational learning and for training senior medical professionals would remain open. “We are also recommending that board exams that were scheduled for March or April, be pushed forward till May and June. This is because when educational institutions will reopen, students will get time to complete their course work,” he said. “Further, we have also recommended that the new academic year, which begins in April at government schools, be postponed till August and summer vacations are reduced,” the education minister concluded. Sindh Education and Labour Minister Saeed Ghani opposed the federal government’s decision to close all educational institutions from November 26. Ghani, in the NCOC meeting, proposed that students should not be promoted in the next grade without conducting examinations this year. He suggested that only those educational institutions should be closed that have an enrolment of 73 pc at the primary level, while classes six and above should continue. Examinations from grade nine to 12 should not be conducted in May and June next year, but the matter should be postponed and a decision on it taken later keeping in view the situation in the future. He further suggested that all non-teaching activities in educational institutions should be stopped completely for a year. Ghani demanded that loans should be provided on easy terms through banks to provide financial relief to small private schools, tuition and coaching centres. The interest on these loans should be paid by the federal government. The Punjab government has, meanwhile, directed public and private offices throughout the province to ensure that 50% of the staff works from home, as a measure to stem the spread of the coronavirus. According to a notification issued by the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department on Monday, the new order comes into effect immediately and will remain applicable till January 31, 2020. The decision by the Punjab government came a few hours after Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood announced that educational institutions will remain closed throughout the country till January 11. The minister, after a meeting with education ministers of all four provinces, decided that students will take classes from home till December 24. From December 24 to January 10, they will be on a winter break.