“There is a risk of a generational catastrophe”: the UN urges governments to no longer close schools for Covid
The closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic “can no longer continue” or risks causing a “generational catastrophe”. They affirm it Unicef and Unesco, warning that school closures, which in 18 months of the pandemic affected more than 156 million students in 19 countries, were often decided “even when the epidemiological situation did not require it”.
“Schools should be the last to close and the first to reopen,” said Henrietta Fore, executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and Audrey Azoulay, director general of the United Nations for education, science and culture (Unesco).
Instead, the closure of schools has often been taken “as the first, rather than the last, measure”, recalling that in many countries schools have remained closed while bars and restaurants have reopened. According to UN leaders, primary and secondary schools “are not among the main transmission factors” of the new coronavirus and, in most contexts, the risk of contagion would be manageable by implementing “appropriate mitigation strategies”.
According to Unicef and Unesco, school closures are not without risks and will have repercussions on children who may never be recovered.
“From the loss of learning ability, mental distress, exposure to violence and abuse, to forgoing meals and vaccinations at school or to reduced development of social skills, the consequences for children will be felt in terms of academic performance and social involvement, as well as physical and mental health ”, said Fore and Azoulay, recalling that there are equally heavy repercussions for parents, forced all over the world to leave their jobs, especially in countries with no or limited family leave policies. “The most affected are often children in resource-limited settings who do not have access to distance learning tools and younger children who are in key stages of development.”
UN agencies argue that for the reopening of schools “we cannot wait for all teachers and students to be vaccinated”, due to the shortage of vaccines in low- and middle-income countries. “All schools should provide in-person learning as early as possible, with no barriers to entry and not require vaccination before school entry.”