Story at a glance
- At the height of the pandemic, 1.6 billion students were out of classrooms.
- Distance learning is still untenable for many communities.
Following the holidays, COVID-19 cases are spiking across multiple countries, prompting new lockdowns and restrictions against in-person gathering.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, schools are shutting down, relegating students to remote learning amid high levels of virus transmission. U.K. students are joining the approximately 1.6 billion children recorded as out of school at the peak of the pandemic worldwide.
Speaking to CNBC Tuesday, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore described the lack of in-person attendance around the world as a “global education emergency.”
This has prompted remote learning capabilities to be vital.
“One of the first areas that really concerns us is the amount that children forget when they’re not in school. The most recent studies show that just in a matter of two, three, four weeks, children begin to regress academically and socially,” Fore said. “For many children, they’ve been out of school now between three months and 12 months.”
She is particularly concerned that girls in vulnerable communities may never return to school given that the pandemic may force them to care for sick relatives.
Fore also touched on the digital divide between wealthy nations and poor nations — that is, some regions are not financially able to procure the hardware or software needed to support distance learning.
“These are issues that are in every country and in many communities. You would be surprised at how much division there is between those schools and those students and those households who have connectivity, who have the ability for remote and distance learning, and those who do not,” she noted. “This is not just an issue in the developing world. It’s in the developed world.”
Included in the second stimulus bill was roughly $54 billion in federal aid designated for schools specifically. A sizable portion of this is intended to be spent on technology for remote learning. Both closing and reopening has created issues in supplies needed to move forward with education.