Alarm in schools

Truth is one casualty of militancy and the resultant war that Pakistan is besieged with. The other is education. It started in Swat where the Taliban launched their campaign against female education three years ago by torching and bombing schools. Now schools all over the country are under threat — perhaps not so much from attacks by militants as panic, fear and mass confusion.

What happened on Monday was a classic case of this situation. With the start of the army operation in South Waziristan, it was feared — and not unrealistically — that the Taliban would retaliate by stepping up attacks on civilians. But as is the government’s wont, this eventuality had not been anticipated and no feasible strategy for security was in place. As a result, when the authorities received intelligence reports of schools in some regions being potential targets their knee-jerk reaction was to shut down educational institutions in Islamabad. Schools in Peshawar and Lahore also decided to close while in Sindh there has been confusion with some schools announcing a holiday.

This is no doubt a tricky situation. On the one hand, one cannot take risks and expose children to unnecessary dangers. On the other, it will devastate the psyche of the people if a climate of panic is created when it may not really be warranted. The authorities have to strike a balance between the two. These are not normal times and a sensible approach would be for the education authorities in each province to work out security guidelines with the help of the security and law-enforcement agencies. All institutions should be formally notified about them and where needed offered assistance and cooperation. Above all it should be ensured that heightened security measures such as drills are actually implemented. If schools are in a state of preparedness it would be possible for them to follow the prescribed procedures smoothly if an emergency arises. There are two basic principles that must be strictly followed. First, panic should not be spread among children. Second, parents must be kept informed at all times as that is their right.

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