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UNICEF labels pandemic school closings a 'catastrophic education emergency'

UNICEF labels pandemic school closings a 'catastrophic education emergency'

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is calling school closings during the COVID-19 pandemic a “catastrophic education emergency,” as schools around the world have shut down for almost a year. 

Schools that teach more than 168 million children have remained “completely closed” since the pandemic first struck last year, with about 1 in 7 children, or 214 million, missing out on more than three-quarters of in-person learning, according to UNICEF analysis.   

UNICEF’s data determined that 14 countries, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, have had their schools stay “largely closed” between March 2020 and February 2021.

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“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,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement. “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.”

“We cannot afford to move into year two of limited or even no in-school learning for these children,” she continued. “No effort should be spared to keep schools open, or prioritise them in reopening plans.”

In recognition of the millions of schoolchildren missing in-person instruction, UNICEF created a model classroom of 168 empty desks with each one standing for 1 million children who live in countries where schools have mostly stayed closed. 

Fore said the “Pandemic Classroom” also includes an empty backpack hung behind each empty desk. 

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

UNICEF’s call to action comes as the pressure to reopen schools during the pandemic ramps up in the U.S. President BidenJoe BidenMellman: Trump voters cling to 2020 tale FDA authorizes another batch of J&J vaccine Cotton warns of China collecting athletes' DNA at 2022 Olympics MORE announced on Tuesday that he is requesting all states prioritize teachers in the vaccination process so educators and staff are given at least one dose by the end of March. 

Amid criticism from Republicans about the slow pace of school reopenings, Biden’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also declared that vaccinations for teachers “should not be considered a condition” ahead of reopening schools.