Governments and decisionmakers should prioritise the safe reopening of schools to avoid a generational catastrophe in education, urged UNICEF.
It has been 18 months since the COVID-19 outbreak started and education for millions of children is still disrupted, a statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said on Monday.
"As of today, primary and secondary schools are shuttered in 19 countries, affecting over 156 million students.
“This should not go on. Schools should be the last to close and the first to reopen," reports bdnews24.com citing the statement.
In their efforts to limit transmission, governments have too often shut down schools and kept them closed for prolonged periods, even when the epidemiological situation didn’t warrant it, said UNICEF.
“The losses that children and young people will incur from not being in school may never be recouped. From learning loss, mental distress, exposure to violence and abuse, to missed school-based meals and vaccinations or reduced development of social skills, the consequences for children will be felt in their academic achievement and societal engagement as well as physical and mental health."
The agency also highlighted that children in areas with limited resources and without access to remote learning are often most affected by the shutdown of schools.
The losses for parents and caretakers are equally heavy, it said. Keeping children at home is forcing parents around the world to leave their jobs, especially in countries with no or limited family leave policies.
“It cannot wait for cases to go to zero."
Primary and secondary schools are not among the main drivers of transmission and the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools is manageable with appropriate mitigation strategies in most settings, the agency said.
The decision to open or close schools should be based on risk analysis and the epidemiological considerations in the communities where they are situated, UNICEF believes.
“Reopening schools cannot wait for all teachers and students to be vaccinated. With the global vaccine shortages plaguing low and middle-income countries, vaccinating frontline workers and those most at risk of severe illness and death will remain a priority. All schools should provide in-person learning as soon as possible, without barriers to access, including not mandating vaccination prior to school entry."
Educational institutions across Bangladesh have been closed since May 17, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The government has announced plans to reopen schools several times, but has been forced to extend the shutdown after the pandemic situation deteriorated. At the end of June, the Ministry of Education announced the school shutdown had been extended to Jul 31.