| 25 February 2024, Sunday |

UNICEF calls for schools to reopen in pandemic-hit nations

UNICEF, the UN agency for children, has encouraged education authorities to reopen schools as quickly as possible in nations where millions of pupils have yet to return to school 18 months after the COVID-19 pandemic began.

According to a UNICEF report released on Thursday, schools in roughly 17 nations are closed completely, while those in 39 countries are partially closed.

Schools in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Panama, and Kuwait, which serve almost 77 million pupils, are among those “almost completely closed.”

Nearly a third of this figure is accounted for by the Philippines, which is fighting one of Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks and where a new school year started this week.

Pupils from the six countries represent more than half of the 131 million students worldwide that have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning, UNICEF said.

“The education crisis is still here, and with each passing day that classrooms remain dark, the devastation worsens,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

Teachers should be given COVID-19 vaccines after health workers and those most at risk, according to the research, to protect them from community transmission.

Although students are safer at home, they continue to confront obstacles such as the lack of access to computers, mobile phones, and the internet, as well as the varied quality of education.

Some children in the Philippines have been compelled to climb onto roofs in order to receive an internet signal.

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“I cannot risk with the health of the children,” President Rodrigo Duterte said in June, rejecting a plan to allow face-to-face courses to restart in some areas.

In a report released in April, the Asian Development Bank estimated school closures lasting more than a year could slash future earnings among the region’s students by as much as $1.25 trillion, or equivalent to 5.4% of GDP in 2020.

UNICEF and its partners will shut down their digital channels for 18 hours on Thursday to draw attention to the crisis and the “18 months of lost learning”.

“This is a crisis we will not allow the world to ignore,” UNICEF’s Fore said. “Our channels are silent, but our message is loud: Every community, everywhere must reopen schools as soon as possible.”

  • Reuters