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UNICEF calls on governments to prioritize reopening of schools

UNICEF calls on governments to reopen schools while taking all the necessary precautions, such as obliging teachers and students to wear masks, keep physical distance, wash their hands frequently with soap or treat with disinfectants, and pass coronavirus tests regularly. UN News reports.

According to the UN, 320 million students are now unable to attend offline classes. In early November, 232 million children were out of school.

«In spite of everything we have learned about COVID-19, the role of schools in community transmission, and the steps we can take to keep children safe at school, we are moving in the wrong direction—and doing so very quickly,» said Robert Jenkins, UNICEF Global Chief of Education.

Evidence shows that schools are not the main drivers of this pandemic. Yet, we are seeing an alarming trend whereby governments are once again closing down schools as a first recourse rather than a last resort. In some cases, this is being done nationwide, rather than community by community, and children are continuing to suffer the devastating impacts on their learning, mental and physical well-being and safety.

Robert Jenkins

When schools close, children risk losing their learning, support system, food and safety, with the most marginalized children — who are the most likely to drop out altogether — paying the heaviest price. And, as millions of children remain out of their classrooms for more than nine months, and many more are re-living the upheaval, UNICEF fears that too many schools are closing unnecessarily, and not enough emphasis has been placed on taking the necessary steps to make schools safe from COVID-19.

A recent global study using data from 191 countries showed no association between school status and COVID-19 infection rates in the community. With little evidence that schools contribute to higher rates of transmission, UNICEF urges governments to prioritize reopening schools and take all actions possible to make them as safe as possible.

School re-opening plans must include expanding access to education, including remote learning, especially for marginalized groups. Education systems must also be adapted and built to withstand future crises.

Earlier, the Fund reported that a third of schoolchildren around the world — about 1.3 billion children — do not have access to the Internet. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 42 percent of children cannot «attend» online lessons.