The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has reported that School closures, as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, have affected nearly 1.3 billion students.
A new set of guidelines issued by the United Nations Agency, in collaboration with the World Bank, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and World Food Programme (WFP) cautioned that the widespread closures of educational facilities present an unprecedented risk to children’s education and wellbeing.
The guidelines also offered practical advice for National and local authorities on how to keep children safe when they return to School.
The Executive Director of UNICEF, Mrs. Fore, said rising inequality, poor health outcomes, violence, child labour, and child marriage are just some of the long-term threats for children who miss out on School, explaining that: “We know the longer children stay out of School, the less likely they are to ever return. Unless we prioritize the reopening of Schools when it is safe to do so, we will likely see a devastating reversal in education gains.”
The guidelines note that while there is not yet enough evidence to measure the impact of School closures on disease transmission rates, the adverse effects of School closures on children’s safety and learning are well documented, adding that gains made in increasing access to children’s education in recent decades risk being lost and, in the worse cases, reversed completely.
The WFP Executive Director, Mr David Beasley, noted that in the poorest Countries, children often rely on Schools for their only meal of the day; but with many Schools now closed because of Coronavirus, 370 million children are missing out on these nutritious meals which are a lifeline for poor families and also being denied the health support they normally get through School.
He added that this could do lasting damage, hence, when Schools reopen, it is critical that these meal programmes and health services are restored, which can also help to draw the most vulnerable children back to School.
The World Global Director for Education, Jaime Saavedra, said once Schools begin to reopen, the priority would become reintegrating Students into School settings safely and in ways that allow learning to be picked again, especially for those who suffered the biggest learning losses.