COVID-19 induced school closures have devastated learning outcomes as schools for over 168 million children globally have been completely closed for almost a full year.
The UNICEF on Wednesday urged governments to reopen schools on priority and reported that in India alone, closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and lockdowns in 2020 had impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools.
In addition, there are over six million Indian girls and boys who were already out of school even before the COVID-19 crisis began.
“Online education is not an option for all as only one in four children in India has access to digital devices and internet connectivity. Pre-COVID, only a quarter of households (24 per cent) in India had access to the internet and there is a large rural-urban and gender divide,” UNICEF said today cautioning policy planners of a looming crisis for children’s wellbeing.
Till date, in India only eight states and UTs have opened all classes from class 1 to class 12; 11 states have reopened classes 6-12 and 15 states have only opened classes 9-12.
Three states have reopened anganwadi centers, with younger children losing out greatly on crucial foundational learning.
“It has been nearly a year since the pandemic caused schools to close and disrupt the normal routine of children throughout India. We know that the longer children stay out of school, the more vulnerable they become, with less chances of returning to school. Any decision to reopen schools is made with the best interests of children in mind and as schools re-open in a staggered manner with children returning to their classrooms, we must strive to support them in catching up on the learning they have missed. This is especially true for those who were not able to access digital or remote learning opportunities. Further, the mental health and well-being of children is a crucial concern. Psycho-social support from teachers, parents and caregivers is a priority,” said Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF India Representative.
Worldwide, around 214 million children globally – or 1 in 7 – have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning.
The analysis of school closure report notes 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.
“As we approach the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, 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,” said Henrietta Fore UNICEF Executive Director.
She said 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,” she noted.