The United Nations (UN) has estimated in a policy brief that over one billion students across all the continents have been affected by the novel coronavirus disease and its subsequent lockdown. Deeming this a “generational catastrophe“, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describes the pandemic to be a large disruption of education.
The prompted lockdown has resulted in the closure of schools in over 160 countries in mid-July. Additionally, some forty million students were forced to miss out on pre-school education, the burden of which falls drastically on parents, especially mothers, UN notes. The economic strain caused due to the Coronavirus and lockdown will restrict almost 23.8 million students from attending schools post-pandemic.
Mr. Guterres said the interruption faced by the world could potentially “waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities.” The closure of schools could affect child nutrition, child marriage, and gender equality, to name just a few – which Mr. Guterres says is deeply concerning.
The shift from traditional, in-person schooling to online classes has created a disparity between the rich, poor, and differently-abled students. Despite the numerous methods extended for the continuity of classes (by radio, television, and online), many students still face difficulties to avail the lessons, including those who are already accustomed to distance learning. Students with disabilities, members of minority or disadvantaged communities, as well as refugees and displaced persons, are among those at highest risk of being left behind, said Mr. Guterres.
He mentioned the already prevalent learning crisis before the pandemic, which reports some 250 million who dropped out of school, with only a quarter of secondary school children from developing countries who leave school with basic skills.
Stating education as “the key to personal development and the future of societies,” the UN launched a new campaign during the Policy Brief in coalition with other education partners called ‘Save our Future’. The campaign aims to have a lasting impact on the millions of young people and the developmental prospects in the coming years with decisions taken by the government and the partners.
The Policy Brief focuses on four key areas with – the reopening of schools and learning institutions in all countries taking the top priority, once the local transmission of COVID-19 is under control.
The UN calls for a protected and increased education budget, as low and middle-income countries face a growing education funding gap of USD 1.5 trillion.
Upcoming education initiatives should seek to be all-pervasive even for those left behind including ‘people in emergencies and crises; minority groups of all kinds; displaced people and those with disabilities,’ while bridging the digital gap and being sensitive to the challenges faced by girls, boys, women, and men.
And finally, under Sustainable Development Goals, UN plans to re-imagine education and deliver quality education. “To achieve this, we need investment in digital literacy and infrastructure, an evolution towards learning how to learn, a rejuvenation of life-long learning, and strengthened links between formal and non-formal education,” said Mr. Guterres.
“As the world faces unsustainable levels of inequality, we need education now more than ever. We must take bold steps now, to create inclusive, resilient, quality education systems fit for the future,” he said in a video message.
Featured Image Via Canva