United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned world leaders that the coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented disruption in education across the world and impacting millions of children.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the largest disruption in education ever. In mid-July, schools were closed in more than 160 countries, affecting over 1 billion students. At least 40 million children worldwide have missed out on education in their critical pre-school year,” Guterres said.
The U.N. secretary-general said that the impacts of school closures are hitting more than just students’ education, placing additional strain on parents and stifling sorely needed opportunities for children with disabilities or in poverty.
“We already faced a learning crisis before the pandemic. More than 250 million school-age children were out of school. And only a quarter of secondary school children in developing countries were leaving school with basic skills,” Guterres continued. “Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities. The knock-on effects on child nutrition, child marriage and gender equality, among others, are deeply concerning.”
The policy brief released alongside the secretary-general’s message outlines several key components to combatting the growing global education crisis. First, students must return to school as quickly as possible. Then, Guterres said global investment in education should be increased while prioritizing the most disadvantaged. Finally, countries should use the pandemic to jump start massive technological investments in the future of education.
“We are at a defining moment for the world’s children and young people the decisions that governments and partners take now will have lasting impacts on hundreds of millions of young people, and on the development prospects of countries for decades to come,” Guterres said.
The United Nations’ message comes as the Trump administration is pushing against Democrats in Congress and influential teachers unions to reopen schools in the fall. President Trump has called for most schools to be reopened, exempting those where spread of the coronavirus is high. The Trump administration has also floated the possibility of withholding federal funds from schools who refuse to reopen.
Democrats and teachers unions are pushing back against school reopenings asserting that schools must be “safe” before students and teachers can be brought back. Schools must institute proper social distancing rules in classrooms and other crowded areas, a challenging if not impossible standard for most institutions.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, and more recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have appeared to support the Trump administration position, saying that the costs to children future development is far above the risk posed by the disease. CDC Director Robert Redfield recently testified that barring children from attending school in person increases their risk of suicide, drug use, and abuse.
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