Reopening schools must be the top priority as lockdowns ease: UN chief

The world is facing a ‘generational catastrophe’ due to school closures caused by coronavirus pandemic with a BILLION students affected, UN chief warns

  • UN chief said reopening schools should be top priority as lockdowns are eased
  • Antonio Guterres warned 1billion children are facing ‘generational catastrophe’
  • 160 countries have closed schools, he said, and 100 have no firm plans to reopen

Reopening schools should be the ‘top priority’ as coronavirus lockdowns ease with a billion children left facing a ‘generational catastrophe’ after classrooms closed, the head of the UN has warned.

Antonio Guterres urged world leaders to reopen schools as soon as coronavirus transmission is under control, or risk permanently hampering the prospects of a generation of young people.

He revealed that schools in 160 countries around the globe are currently closed, while 100 of those have not yet announced a firm date for the reopening.

Antionio Guterres, head of the UN, has urged world leaders to make reopening schools their top priority as he warned 1billion children are facing a ‘generational catastrophe’

As a result, 40million children have missed out on education ‘in their critical preschool year’, he said, while 24million are at risk of dropping out or having no access to education next year as a result of the pandemic.

That is on top of the more than 250 million children who were out of school before the pandemic began, he added. 

‘We are at a defining moment for the world’s children and young people,’ Guterres said in a video message and a 26-page policy briefing. 

‘The decisions that governments 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.’

According to the policy briefing, ‘the unparalleled education disruption’ from the pandemic is far from over, with action needed in four key areas.

The first, Guterres stressed, must be reopening schools as soon as possible. 

‘Once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control,’ he said, ‘getting students back into schools… as safely as possible must be a top priority.’

UNESCO’s education chief Stefania Giannini announced a high-level virtual meeting in October to secure commitments from world leaders on education. 

She insisted that the international community must place education at the forefront of recovery agendas from the pandemic.

‘There may be economic trade-offs, but the longer schools remain closed the more devastating the impact, especially on the poorest and most vulnerable children,’ Giannini warned.

Guterres said schools in 160 countrirs are currently closed, with 100 of those having no firm date for reopening them (pictured, a schoolboy in Germany, where classes have resumed)

She stressed that schools are not only for learning but provide social protection and nutrition, especially for vulnerable youngsters.

The coronavirus crisis has amplified digital, social and gender inequalities, Giannini said, with girls, refugees, the disabled, displaced and youngsters in rural areas the most vulnerable and facing limited opportunities to continue their learning.

Guterres said increasing financing for education must be given priority.

Before the pandemic, low- and middle-income countries faced an education funding gap of $1.5 trillion annually, he said, and the gap in education financing globally could increase by 30% because of the pandemic.

The secretary-general said education initiatives must target ‘those at greatest risk of being left behind,’ including youngsters in crises, minorities, and the displaced and disabled.

And these initiatives should urgently seek to bridge the digital divide that has become even more evident during the COVID-19 crisis, he said.

On a positive note, Guterres said the pandemic is providing ‘a generational opportunity to reimagine education’ and leap forward to systems that deliver quality education.

To achieve this, he called for investments in ‘digital literacy and infrastructure’ and education systems that are more flexible, equitable and inclusive.

UNESCO´s Giannini said innovations made so far during the pandemic, including online learning and education on radio and television, ‘proves change can happen quickly.’

She said a coalition of global organizations launched a campaign Tuesday called ‘Save Our Future’ to amplify the voices of children and young people and urge governments worldwide to recognize that investing in education is critical to COVID-19 recovery and to the future of the world.

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