Story at a glance
- As of mid-July, schools were closed in 160 countries, affecting more than 1 billion students. At least 40 million children have missed their preschool year.
- Before the pandemic, more than 250 million children were already missing school, and only a quarter of secondary school children in developing countries were leaving school with basic skills.
- The U.N. chief said once local transmission is under control, countries must prioritize bringing students back into learning institutions as safely as possible.
The world is facing a “generational catastrophe” as school closures sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic have led to the largest disruption of education in history, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday.
In a video message, Guterres said that as of mid-July schools were closed in 160 countries — affecting more than 1 billion students, with at least 40 million children missing their preschool year.
The U.N. head explained the pandemic has exacerbated an existing learning crisis, as more than 250 million school-age children were already missing out on school, and only a quarter of secondary school children in developing countries were leaving school with basic skills, Guterres said.
Last month, over 1 billion students were affected by #COVID19 school closures.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) August 4, 2020
Even before the pandemic, the world was facing a learning crisis.
We must take bold steps now, to create inclusive, resilient, quality education systems fit for the future. https://t.co/fD4nwEkqUg pic.twitter.com/71ksZO2DHP
Low- and middle-income countries already faced an education funding gap of $1.5 trillion per year, a gap that has further widened due to the coronavirus crisis.
“Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities,” Guterres said as he urged countries to work to suppress the virus sufficiently to allow schools to reopen.
“Once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control, getting students back into schools and learning institutions as safely as possible must be a top priority,” he said. “Consultation with parents, carers, teachers and young people is fundamental.”
The U.N. chief’s assessment comes as states across the U.S. are weighing the decision whether to reopen schools ahead of the forthcoming academic year.
While prominent Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) have recently said the U.S. needs to get better control over the coronavirus outbreak before a widespread reopening of schools can occur safely, President Trump has continued demanding a return to in-person classes for schools around the country, despite worsening outbreaks in several states.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, on Monday advocated for reopening schools mainly on a case-by-cases basis, saying schools in coronavirus hot spots should not reopen.
“There may be some areas where the level of virus is so high that it would not be prudent to bring the children back to school,” Fauci said Monday during a video conference with physicians and medical students at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center Monday.
“So you can’t make one statement about bringing children back to school in this country, it depends on where you are,” he said.
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