Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | If closure of schools as a strategy to halt further spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, United Nations (UN) Agencies warn that many children around the globe may not get another chance of an education.
As a result in their latest joint press statement, UNESCO, UNICEF and World Food Programme have called for balancing of the world’s educational needs and public health needs noting that over 1.3 billion students have been affected by lockdowns on schools.
Giving countries six key guidelines to inform reopening of schools, the organizations note that the widespread closures of educational facilities in response to the pandemic present an unprecedented risk to children’s education and well being particularly for the most marginalized children who rely on school for their education, health, safety and nutrition.
“Rising inequality, poor health outcomes, violence, child labor and child marriage are just some of the long-term threats for children who miss out on school,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “We know the longer children stay out of school, the less likely they are to ever to return. Unless we prioritize the reopening of schools, we will likely see a devastating reversal in education gains.”
The guidelines for reopening noted in the statement include; policy reform, financing requirements, safe operations, compensating learning, wellness and protection and reaching the most marginalized students. The plan is broken down into three phases: “prior to reopening” where they suggest that schools are reopened in areas with lowest transmission rates or consider opening for a few days a week and developing clear physical distancing protocols. At the phase classified as “part of reopening” the organizations suggested having enough hand washing facilities and train staff on hygiene protocols to ensure that proper guidelines are followed.
When it comes to phase three of “with schools reopened,” they offer guidelines on actively monitoring health indicators and expanding the focus on well being and protection.
“Once schools begin to reopen, the priority becomes reintegrating students into school settings safely and in ways that allow learning to pick up again especially for those who suffered the biggest learning losses. This is a critical moment as it is the launching pad for a new normal that should be more effective and equitable. To manage re openings, schools will need to be logistically prepared with the teaching workforce ready,” said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education.
However, even with these guidelines, the three UN organizations together with the World Bank argue that there is a risk that many countries can’t make such decisions depending on guided information since their data on the virus’ full spread is incomplete and are not sure of how wide spread the virus is in their different localities.