Educational institutes reopened across Pakistan earlier this week ending a six-month long break owing to the emergence of coronavirus.
The government is actively working to enforce coronavirus SOPs. The School Education Department (SED) Punjab has also directed all the schools across the province to hold a “zero period” regarding personal hygiene, anti-dengue and COVID-19 measures.
However, the lack of adequate health and hygiene facilities remains a big concern after students get back to school during the pandemic. Many of the schools in Pakistan lack basic facilities to maintain hygiene within schools such as clean drinking water, hand-washing stations and toilets.
In Pakistan, 1 out of every 3 schools does not have a toilet or clean water facility.
Between 42% to 64% of the urban primary schools and between 46.1 to 78.6 % of the rural primary schools are without toilets in AJK, Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan and FATA.
One-fourth of the primary schools have no access to drinking water and around one-tenth of the secondary schools face the same situation.
The unavailability of these basic facilities also remains one of the main reasons behind children dropping out of school and this is especially true for adolescent girls. Adolescent girls are forced to dropout because of the problems they have to face during their menstrual cycle due to the absence of basic WASH facilities.
With the lack of these basic facilities in schools across Pakistan it is also difficult to maintain health and hygiene among the students especially amid the prevailing coronavirus pandemic.
The re-opening of schools is an important step to bring students back into the formal learning stream. However, the health and safety of the returning students and the implementation of the COVID-19 SOPs can only be ensured when all the public schools are equipped with basic facilities such as hand-washing stations and toilets.
While adherence to SOPs such as social distancing in classrooms and wearing masks is important, the federal and provincial governments must immediately step-up efforts to ensure the provision of clean water and toilets across all the schools in Pakistan.
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