According to UNICEF, the globe is experiencing an education crisis as a result of the COVID pandemic, which has kept approximately 77 million children out of school for the previous 18 months.
UNICEF closed its social media accounts on Thursday for 18 hours to communicate a single message to the world: #ReopenSchools for in-person learning as soon as feasible.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has agreed to participate. UNICEF, in collaboration with the World Bank, the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid, the LEGO Foundation, and the World Economic Forum Global Shaper, has launched a humanitarian aid operation in Europe.
For UNICEF, the right to go to school is central to every child’s development, safety and well-being. Yet in too many countries, classrooms remain closed, while social gatherings continue to take place in restaurants, salons and gyms.
The agency believes “this generation of children and youth cannot afford any more disruptions to their education.”
New numbers from UNESCO, released this Thursday, showed that schools are now fully open in 117 countries, with 539 million students back in class, ranging from pre-primary to secondary levels.
This represents 35 per cent of the total student population across the world, compared to 16 per cent who returned to school in September 2020, when schools were only open, or partially open, in 94 countries.
Around 117 million students, representing 7.5 per cent of the total, are still affected by complete school closures in 18 countries. The number of countries with partly opened schools has declined from 52 to 41 over the same period.
In all countries that had prolonged full school closures, education was provided through a combination of online classes, printed modules, as well as tuition through TV and radio networks.
UNESCO and its Global Education Coalition partners have been advocating for the safe reopening of schools, urging full closures to be used as a measure of last resort.
Since the onset of the pandemic, schools were completely closed for an average of 18 weeks (4.5 months) worldwide. If partial closures are accounted for, the average duration of closures represents 34 weeks (8.5 months) worldwide, or nearly a full academic year.
For UNESCO, the past two academic years have resulted in learning losses and increased drop-out rates, impacting the most vulnerable students disproportionately.
Schools in most countries have adopted some forms of sanitation protocol such as wearing masks, using hand sanitisers, improving ventilation and social distancing, which were also key to re-opening schools in 2020.
Some countries have also introduced large scale testing, as well as temporary classroom and school closures when the virus was detected.
UNICEF and UNESCO say teachers should be prioritised to receive the COVID-19 vaccination in order to ensure a safe return to schools.
Rising vaccination rates among both the general population and teaching staff has also been a key factor in reopening schools.
The vaccination of teachers has been prioritised in around 80 countries, allowing for the inoculation of some 42 million teachers. In a handful of countries, the vaccination of students aged 12 and over, is an important factor in determining the full re-opening of schools.
Action to accelerate the recovery of learning losses remains an essential component of national COVID-19 education responses. For that, UNESCO says teachers and educators need adequate support and preparation.
Connectivity and bridging the digital divide also remained key priorities in building the resilience of education systems and providing hybrid learning opportunities.
For that reason, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank have partnered in an initiative called Mission: “Recovering Education 2021″‘.
The initiative supports governments in bringing all learners back to school, running programmes to help them catch up on lost learning, and preparing teachers to address learning losses and incorporate new digital technology.
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