At least 24 million children may drop out of school due to the pandemic, said Henrietta Fore, executive director of the UN Children’s Fund.
The prediction on the drop out mirrors a “global education emergency” which is caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, she said on a press call held by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
“At the height of Covid-19,” 192 countries closed schools and 1.6 billion students did not experience in-person learning. She noted that there are now more than 870 million students, “or half the world’s student population in 51 countries,” who still cannot return to school.
“The longer children remain out of school, the less likely they are to return,” she stressed. “That’s why we are urging governments to prioritize reopening schools when restrictions are lifted.”
According to Fore, schools worldwide could also provide students with a source of nutrition and immunizations aside from education. “At least 24 million children are projected to drop out of school due to Covid-19,” she added.
Several schools went shifted to online learning in the spring as the coronavirus spread worldwide. However, education experts are concerned about the shortcomings of virtual education, suggesting that it is not as advantageous as in-person schooling.
Fore mentioned that more than 460 million students worldwide do not have internet connection, computers, or mobile gadgets to join virtual learning while their schools are shuttered.
“We know that closing schools for prolonged periods of time [has] devastating consequences for children,” she said.
“They become more exposed to physical and emotional violence. Their mental health is affected. They are more vulnerable to child labor, sexual abuse, and are less likely to break out of the cycle of poverty,” she added.
UNESCO, UNICEF and the WHO jointly issued a 10-page document that presents guidelines to reopen and run schools during the pandemic.
“It is of utmost importance that education and health work closely together to ensure that schools reopen safely as a matter of priority,” she said. “When we deal with education, the decision that we make today will impact tomorrow’s world.”
The said guidelines cover policies that communities, schools, classrooms and individuals should take into account when deciding whether to reopen or go to school. Encouraging students to stay home if they may have contracted the virus and for schools to establish good ventilation in indoor classrooms are among the measures in the guidelines.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “many questions remain, but we’re starting to have a clearer picture” about the impact of the virus on children.
Tedros emphasized the importance of research on factors that contribute to the risk of death in children as well as the long-term complications from Covid-19.
“Although children have largely been spared, many of the most serious health effects of the virus they have suffered in other ways,” he said. “Millions of children have missed out on months of schooling. We all want to see children back at school, and we all want to make sure the schools are the safe and supportive learning environments they should be.”