UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations called on Monday on all countries to prioritize reopening their schools as soon as they have local transmission of the coronavirus under control, warning that prolonged closures could led to a “generational catastrophe.”
“We are at a defining moment for the world’s children and young people. The decisions that government and partners take now will have lasting impact on hundreds of millions of young people and on the development prospects of countries for decades to come,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a video message.
Guterres presented a report prepared by the organization to analyze the impact of the closure of schools, institutes and universities and to offer recommendations to policy makers.
According to the UN chief, the world “already faced a learning crisis before the pandemic” with over 250 million school-age children out of school and only a quarter of secondary school children in developing countries completing their studies with basic skills.
“Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress and exacerbate entrenched inequalities,” Guterres warned.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the largest disruption of education in history,” says the report, titled “Save our Future.”
According to UN data, schools remained closed in more than 160 countries in mid-July, affecting more than 1 billion students, and over 100 nations have yet to announce dates for reopening.
According to the report, “disruptions caused by COVID-19 to everyday life meant that as many as 40 million children worldwide have missed out on early childhood education in their critical pre-school year,” a stage considered key and “the great equalizer,” Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education, said at a press conference.
Distance education, with radio, television and online classes, leaves many students behind, warns the UN, which highlights the particular risk that those with disabilities, from minority or disadvantaged communities, displaced persons and refugees, and those living in remote areas face.
Thus, the pandemic is increasing educational inequalities and threatens to undo the progress made in recent decades.
In such a situation, the UN calls for action in a number of areas, starting with the reopening of schools as soon as possible, an issue that is generating a strong debate in many countries.
“Once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control, getting students back into schools and learning institutions as safely as possible must be a top priority,” Guterres explained.
“It will be essential to balance health risks against risks to children’s education and protection, and to factor in the impact on women’s labor force participation,” he added.
During this process, it is fundamental to consult with parents, carers, teachers and young people, according to the UN.
The UN also calls for priority on education in the distribution of funds and protecting and increasing educational budgets, and says “it is critical that education is at the heart of international solidarity efforts.”
The UN also urges special attention to students in more vulnerable situations and encourages leveraging the pandemic to transform education systems through investment in digital infrastructure, revitalizing life-long learning and using more flexible teaching methods.
“We have a generational opportunity to reimagine education. We can take a leap towards forward-looking systems that deliver quality education for all as a springboard for the Sustainable Development Goals,” Guterres said.