Covid-19 effect on students a catastrophe, may hurt decades of progress: UN
Antonio Guterres said that as of mid-July, schools were closed in some 160 countries, affecting more than 1 billion students, while at least 40 million children have missed out on pre-school.Updated: Aug 05, 2020, 05:42 IST
United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned on Tuesday that the world faces a “generational catastrophe” because of school closures amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and said that getting students safely back to the classroom must be “a top priority”.
Guterres said that as of mid-July, schools were closed in some 160 countries, affecting more than 1 billion students, while at least 40 million children have missed out on pre-school.
This came on top of more than 250 million children already being out of school before the pandemic and only a quarter of secondary school students in developing countries leaving with basic skills, he said in a video statement.
“Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities,” said Guterres as he launched a UN “Save our Future” campaign.
“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.”
Educationist and former University Grants Commission (UGC) member Dr Inder Mohan Kapahy said: “Covid-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented existential crisis in the whole world, particularly in the developing nations. In India alone, a minimum of 30 million school students are adversely affected. In poorer countries, schools provide not only education but also nutrients, food and life skills. A conservative estimate is that disruption in school education may continue for at least four months more.”
According to a global projection covering 180 countries by the UN education agency UNESCO and partner organisations, some 23.8 million additional children and youths from pre-primary school to university level are at risk of dropping out or not having access to school next year due to the pandemic’s economic impact.
“We are at a defining moment for the world’s children and young people,” Guterres said in a video message and a 26-page policy briefing. “The decisions that governments and partners take now will have lasting impact on hundreds of millions of young people, and on the development prospects of countries for decades to come.”
According to the policy briefing, “the unparalleled education disruption” from the pandemic is far from over and as many as 100 countries have not yet announced a date for schools to reopen.
Guterres called for action in four key areas, the first being reopening schools. “Once local transmission of Covid-19 is under control,” he said, “getting students back into schools and learning institutions as safely as possible must be a top priority.”
Guterres said increasing financing for education must be given priority. Before the pandemic, low- and middle-income countries faced an education funding gap of $1.5 trillion annually, he said, and the gap in education financing globally could increase by 30% because of the pandemic.
The secretary-general said education initiatives must target “those at greatest risk of being left behind”, including youngsters in crises, minorities, and the displaced and disabled. And these initiatives should urgently seek to bridge the digital divide that has become even more evident during the Covid-19 crisis, he said.
On a positive note, Guterres said the pandemic is providing “a generational opportunity to reimagine education” and leap forward to systems that deliver quality education.
Ameeta Mulla Wattal, principal of Delhi’s Springdales School, said: “There is no doubt this is one of the greatest human crises that has taken place. And its largest impact has been felt on children — regular students, more so children in rural areas across the world because they have absolutely no access to education. So there is no doubt an entire aspect of learning that will be affected by the pandemic because there are these ages of learning that will face a gap at different levels because of the pandemic, whether it is the foundation, primary, middle level or another level.”
Educationist Meeta Sengupta said that the “continuity of learning” is the first step for bringing back students to classrooms whenever the schools reopen.
“We need to start working as a community to create a mesh network of the internet to make it available to the poor. There should be measures to raise funds for digital devices and internet connection to enable children from poor families to continue learning at their homes. The continuity should not break because once students step out of learning; coming back is very difficult. The relationship between students and schools should be continued,” she said.
Findings from a National Statistical Office survey on social consumption on education, conducted in 2017-18, show that India’s gross enrolment ratio was 99.2 between primary and middle school education level. It is the ratio of the number of persons currently enrolled in a particular level of education to the number of persons in the corresponding official age group. For example, the ratio of 99.2 in primary to middle school level means for every 100 persons in the age group of 6 to 13 years, there are 99.2 students enrolled in Classes 1 to 8. To be sure, this does not mean nearly everyone in the age group of 6 to 13 years is enrolled in school because some of the students in Classes 1 to 8 would be students from other age groups, particularly above the age of 13, who enrol at a age higher than the one recommended.