New Delhi (NVI): More than 168 million children worldwide missed out classroom learning, as schools have remained completely closed for almost an entire year due to COVID-19 lockdowns, according to new UNICEF report.
The UN Children’s Fund report showed that around 214 million children or one in seven schoolchild around the world, have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning.
As the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said, “We are again reminded of the catastrophic education emergency worldwide lockdowns have created. With every day that goes by, children unable to access in-person schooling fall further and further behind, with the most marginalized paying the heaviest price.”
Fore added that, “We cannot afford to move into year two of limited or even no in-school learning for these children. No effort should be spared to keep schools open, or prioritise them in reopening plans.”
The school closures report also noted that 14 countries worldwide have remained largely closed since March 2020 to February 2021, two-thirds of those countries are in Latin America and the Caribbean, affecting nearly 98 million schoolchildren.
“Of the 14 countries, Panama has kept schools closed for the most days, followed by El Salvador, Bangladesh, and Bolivia,” the report said.
According to a latest UN report, more than 888 million children worldwide continue to face disruptions to their education due to full and partial school closures.
UNICEF informed that school closures have devastating consequences for children’s learning and wellbeing.
The most vulnerable children and those unable to access remote learning are at an increased risk of never returning to the classroom, sometimes forced into child labour and even child marriage, the agency said.
Apart from that, schoolchildren worldwide also rely on their schools as a place to interact with their peers, seek support, access health and immunization services and a nutritious meal. The longer schools remain closed, the longer children are cut off from these critical elements of childhood.
On Wednesday, UNICEF unveiled ‘Pandemic Classroom,’ a model classroom made up of 168 empty desks, each desk representing the million children living in countries where schools have been almost entirely closed, as “a solemn reminder of the classrooms in every corner of the world that remain empty,” the agency added.
In this regard, Fore said this classroom represents the millions of centers of learning that have sat empty—many for almost the entire year. Behind each empty chair hangs an empty backpack—a placeholder for a child’s deferred potential.
“This installation is a message to governments: we must prioritize reopening schools, and we must prioritize reopening them better than they were before,” she added.
Furthermore, the UNICEF urged governments to priorities the unique needs of every student, with comprehensive services covering remedial learning, health and nutrition, and mental health and protection measures in schools to nurture children and adolescents’ development and wellbeing.