UNICEF welcomes the decision to reopen schools in September
Statement by Patrizia DiGiovanni, UNICEF Representative calling for efforts to ensure schools remain safe and open.
SKOPJE, 19 August 2021: “UNICEF welcomes the Government decision to reopen schools for all children in September.
“This is especially encouraging since North Macedonia has recorded the longest school closure for in person learning, with the majority of students attending distance learning for a total of 54 weeks, a number significantly higher than the Europe and Central Asia region average of 25 weeks.
“We recognise that decisions to reopen schools are considered in the context of the COVID-19 epidemiological situation and our evolving understanding of the risks posed by the new virus variants, however schools must always be the last to close and first to reopen when it is safe to do so.
“With the uncertainties in the early onset of the pandemic, the shift to distance learning was a needed measure, however it was always intended to be short term and never replace in-person learning. Governments around the world have too often kept schools closed for in-person learning for prolonged periods. School closures were frequently taken as a first recourse rather than a last measure. In many cases, schools were closed while bars and restaurants remained open.
“We know from our research with school management, teachers and parents in North Macedonia that while distance education helped to keep children learning, more than half of all teachers saw an increase in the number of students who struggled or failed to acquire what they were being taught due to distance learning. We also saw a majority of teachers report that at one point during distance learning they could not contact some of their students.
“Furthermore, before the COVID-19 pandemic, North Macedonia was already facing a learning crisis. While the country showed promising improvements during the last PISA results, still more than half of all fifteen-year-olds in the country were failing to meet basic proficiency levels in reading and maths. Any continued disruptions in education may reverse these gains.
“With appropriate enhanced prevention measures in schools and timely detection, isolation of cases and their contacts, the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools is manageable.
“In this country, schools which opened in the 2020/2021 school year have proven that they do have the capacity to follow COVID19 safety protocols. Furthermore, the share of vaccinated school staff is promising – some 62 per cent - and optimistically growing.
“That’s why the community should support the safe reopening of schools and if the situation evolves, school closures should only be considered as a last resort when there are no other alternatives.
“Reopening and keeping schools open requires a collective effort to ensure they remain a safe environment for learning. Now more than ever schools need the resources and capacities to rebuild what has been lost in learning and mental wellbeing. We need to make education a priority and build national solidarity around key reforms so that every child is in school and learning.”
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit https://www.unicef.org/eca/.