UNICEF calls for schools to reopen in pandemic-hit nations

Manila, Sept. 16 (BNA) The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has urged educational authorities to reopen schools as soon as possible in countries where millions of students are still not allowed to return to classes 18 months after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools in about 17 countries remain completely closed, while schools in 39 countries remain partially closed, according to a report by UNICEF on Thursday, Reuters reported.

Among those “almost completely closed” are schools normally attended by nearly 77 million students in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Panama and Kuwait.

The Philippines accounts for nearly a third of that number, which is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, as the new school year started this week.

UNICEF said students from the six countries represent more than half of the 131 million students worldwide who have missed out on more than three-quarters of in-person learning.

“The education crisis continues, and with each passing day as classrooms remain dark, the devastation is only getting worse,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

The report said teachers should prioritize access to COVID-19 vaccines, after health workers and those most at risk, to protect them from transmission in the community.

Students may be safer at home, but the availability of computers, mobile phones and the Internet, and the unequal quality of education, are among the challenges they still face.

In the Philippines, some children were forced to climb onto rooftops just to get an internet signal.

In June, President Rodrigo Duterte rejected a proposal to allow face-to-face lessons to resume in some areas, saying, “I can’t gamble on children’s health.”

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In a report released in April, the Asian Development Bank estimated that closing schools for more than a year could cut future earnings among the region’s students by as much as $1.25 trillion, or 5.4% of GDP in 2020.

UNICEF and its partners will shut down their digital channels on Thursday for 18 hours to draw attention to the crisis and “18 months of lost learning.”

“This is a crisis that we will not allow the world to ignore,” said UNICEF’s Fore. “Our channels are muted, but our message is loud: Every community, everywhere must reopen schools as soon as possible.”

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