UNICEF unveils ‘Pandemic Classroom,’ calls for reopening of schools

UNICEF unveils ‘Pandemic Classroom,’ calls for reopening of schools

Schools for more than 168 million children globally have been completely closed for almost an entire year due to Covid-19 lockdowns, according to new data released today by UNICEF. (Photo courtesy of UNICEF)Sourced from the web by Tracy Cabrera

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK — As of this March, schools for more than 168 million children globally have been completely closed for almost an entire year due to lockdowns and quarantine restrictions brought about by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 115 million and killed 2.56 million people.

According to new data released by the United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF), aside from the 168 million, around 214 million children globally—or one in seven—have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning since the pandemic started in the early part of last year.

The analysis on school closures report notes that 14 countries worldwide have remained largely closed from 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.

The Philippines was not listed in the reports due to the implementation by the Department of Education (DepEd) of the distance learning system and the use of online modules in continuing children’s education nationwide.

“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,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore noted.

“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 prioritize them in reopening plans,” Fore added.

The UNICEF official underscored that school closures have devastating consequences for children’s learning and wellbeing, saying that the most vulnerable children and those unable to access remote learning are at an increased risk of never returning to the classroom and even being forced into child marriage or child labor. 

According to latest data gathered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), more than 888 million children worldwide continue to face disruptions to their education due to full and partial school closures.

UNESCO’s statistics showed that the majority of schoolchildren worldwide rely on their schools as a place where they can interact with their peers, seek support, access health and immunization services and a nutritious meal and the longer schools remain closed, the longer children are cut off from these critical elements of childhood.

To call attention to the education emergency and raise awareness about the need for governments to keep schools open, or prioritize them in reopening plans, UNICEF has unveiled ‘Pandemic Classroom,’ a model classroom made up of 168 empty desks, each desk representing the million children living in countries where schools have been almost entirely closed—a solemn reminder of the classrooms in every corner of the world that remain empty.

“This classroom represents the millions of centers of learning that has sat empty—many for almost the entire year. Behind each empty chair hangs an empty backpack—a placeholder for a child’s deferred potential,” Fore described the new model.

“We do not want shuttered doors and closed buildings to obscure the fact that our children’s futures are being put on indefinite pause. This installation is a message to governments: we must prioritize reopening schools, and we must prioritize reopening them better than they were before,” she emphasized.

And as students return to their classrooms, they will need support to readjust and catch up on their learning and this is why UNICEF is pushing for school reopening plans that would incorporate efforts to recover children’s lost education.

In addition, UNICEF is likewise urging governments to prioritize the unique needs of every student, with comprehensive services covering remedial learning, health and nutrition, and mental health and protection measures in schools to nurture children and adolescents’ development and wellbeing.

Number of countries/children where schools have remained closed since March 2020*

RegionSchools have remained closed almost
an entire year (# of countries)
School children affected
Number (in millions)
School children affected
East Asia & the Pacific12515%
Middle East & North Africa395%
East & Southern Africa0N.A.N.A.
Western & Central Africa0N.A.N.A.
Europe & Central Asia0N.A.N.A.
Latin America & the Caribbean99858%
South Asia13722%

Countries were identified based on the number of instruction days since 11 March 2020, the reference date for when schools were fully closed, to February 2021. The data reflect school closure status over the past 11 months. In cases where countries had less than 10 days of fully opened schooling and less than 12 days of partially open schooling, they were deemed as remaining closed for almost a year of instruction time. The analysis covers from the pre-primary education to the upper secondary education. (AI/MTVN)

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