• Saturday, Nov 28, 2020
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UN, WB urge school openings amid pandemic

  • Published at 12:30 pm October 29th, 2020
Wuhan school
File photo: Students attend the 100th anniversary of the founding of Wuhan High School on the first day of the new semester, in Wuhan, central Hubei province on September 1, 2020 AFP

It is essential to invest immediately in school systems to reduce the widening gap between the education provided in poor and rich countries because of the pandemic

The UN and World Bank pleaded in a new report Wednesday for schools to remain open despite Covid-19 risks, highlighting the damage the pandemic has inflicted on children's education, especially in poor nations, AFP reports.

Children in impoverished countries have been deprived of close to four months of schooling since the pandemic began early this year, while pupils in rich nations benefiting from remote learning have lost six weeks, the report said.

"Prioritizing reopening schools and providing much-needed catch-up classes are critical," said Robert Jenkins, education chief at the UN children's fund Unicef.

"We don't need to look far to see the devastation the pandemic has caused to children's learning across the world," he added in a statement.

The devastation has been magnified in low- and middle-income nations, where there has been a lack of access to distance learning, higher chances of delays for school reopenings and fewer resources to mitigate health risks.

UN cultural agency Unesco and the World Bank also said it is essential for countries to invest immediately in school systems to reduce the widening gap between the education provided in poor and rich countries because of the pandemic.

The report from Unicef, Unesco and the World Bank was based on information collected from nearly 150 nations between June and October.

According to the report, schoolchildren in low-and lower-middle income countries are the least likely to access remote learning, the least likely to be monitored on their learning loss, the most likely to have delays to their schools reopening and the most likely to attend schools with inadequate resources to ensure safe operations.

Only 1 in 5 low-income countries reported that remote learnings days count as official school days, recognizing the low-impact of remote learning measures, compared to three-quarters of countries globally, according to a joint statement issued by the UN and World Bank on the report. 

Of 79 countries which responded to questions related to financing, nearly 40% of low-and lower-middle-income countries have either already experienced or anticipate decreases to their country’s education budget for the current or next fiscal year.

Half of respondents in low-income countries reported not having adequate funds for safety measures such as handwashing facilities, social distancing measures and protective equipment for students and teachers, compared to 5% of high-income countries.

"The pandemic will notch up the funding gap for education in low and middle-income countries. By making the right investment choices now, rather than waiting, this gap could be significantly reduced,” said Stefania Giannini, Unesco assistant director-general for education. “At the Global Education Meeting convened by UNESCO with Ghana, Norway and the UK on 22 October, some 15 heads of state and government, close to 70 education ministers and development partners committed to protect education funding and act to safely reopen schools, support all teachers as frontline workers and narrow the digital divide. This holds us all to account.”

Almost all countries included remote learning in their education response, in the form of online platforms, TV and radio programs and take-home packages, the statement said. 

“Despite widespread efforts, there are large differences in countries’ capacity to provide children and youth with effective learning. And there are probably even wider differences within countries in the educational stimulation children and youth have experienced," said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank global director for education.

"We were worried about learning poverty before the pandemic and also about the inequality in learning opportunities. Now the learning baseline is lower, but the increase in inequality of opportunities could be catastrophic. The task of reigniting the learning process is extremely urgent,” he added.

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