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COVID-19 has disrupted education of 1 billion students: UN secretary-general

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COVID-19 has disrupted education of 1 billion students: UN secretary-general COVID-19 has disrupted education of 1 billion students: UN secretary-general classical (File) U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres | Reuters

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the education of over 1 billion students, with schools closed in more than 160 countries.

Guterres also said that at least 40 million children worldwide have missed out on education “in their critical preschool year”.

Even before the pandemic, Guterres said, the world faced “a learning crisis,” with more than 250 million children out of school, and only a quarter of secondary school youngsters in developing countries leaving school “with basic skills.”

He was quoted by Associated Press as saying, “Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities”.

According to a global projection by UNESCO, around 23.8 million 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 economic stress left behind in the pandemic’s wake.

“We are at a defining moment for the world’s children and young people,” Guterres said, adding that policy decisions on education taken by governments now will affect development prospects of countries for decades to come.

Nearly 100 countries haven’t yet announced a date for schools to reopen. Guterres called for action in four key areas, the first being reopening schools.

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini said the agency plans to hold a high-level virtual meeting in the fall, to secure commitments from world leaders to place education at the forefront when it came to areas of recovery from the pandemic.

Giannini said that schools provide social protection and nutrition, especially for vulnerable youngsters. According to her, the coronavirus crisis has amplified digital, social and gender inequalities and that girls, refugees, the disabled, displaced and youngsters in rural areas face limited opportunities to continue uninterrupted education.

Guterres said increasing financing for education must be given priority.

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”.

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