Education on hold
COVID-19: A generation of children in Latin America and the Caribbean are missing out on schooling
More than seven months into the pandemic, COVID-19 is putting on hold the education of over 137 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean. Children in the region have already lost on average four times more days of schooling compared to the rest of the world. While schools are gradually reopening in several parts of the world, the vast majority of classrooms are still closed across the region. Over one-third of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have yet to set a date for school reopening.
A generational catastrophe is unfolding
97 percent of the students in the region have missed out on an average of 174 days of learning and are at risk of losing an entire school year.
COVID-19 has further widened the education gaps between rich and poor families in Latin America and the Caribbean
“Across Latin America and the Caribbean, millions of the most vulnerable students may not return to school,” said Bernt Aasen, UNICEF Regional Director, a.i, for Latin America and the Caribbean. “For those without computers, without internet, or even without a place to study, learning from home has become a daunting challenge.”
COVID-19 is depriving 97 per cent of Latin America and the Caribbean students of their normal schooling (137 million children).
On average, children in the region have lost nearly 4 times more days of schooling than children in the rest of the world (174 school days)
Over one-third of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have yet to set a date for school reopening.
Despite government efforts, only 1 in 2 children from public schools are accessing quality distance learning at home compared to 3 in 4 children from private schools.
More than 3 million children may never return to school, while school enrollment of first-time students is likely to decline by more than 1.8 per cent.
School closures could cost the region up to $1.2 trillion in the eventual lifetime earnings of children who are now deprived of formal learning.
Risks associated with prolonged school closures
When children cannot go to school, they are deprived of more than just their education. Without structured school time, children lose their routine and are unable to socialize with their friends. Some rely on school-feeding programmes and will therefore miss what may be their only nutritious meal of the day. Besides increasing their exposure to undernutrition, being out of school means children are at greater risk of other dangers at home or in their neighborhood, such as child labour, trafficking, adolescent pregnancy, sexual exploitation and abuse, child marriage (or early unions) and violence.
Since the onset of the pandemic in the Latin American and Caribbean region, governments have organized a range of alternatives to school-based education to ensure the continuity of learning. The 24 UNICEF country offices in the region have supported Ministries of Education in developing multi-sectoral responses, including curriculum prioritization, teacher training and distance learning programmes. To help address the mass suspension of education services, about 42 million students in Latin America and the Caribbean have been receiving UNICEF-supported distance and home-based learning delivered through radio, TV, internet, and other platforms. TV and radio have taken on an important role in the educational response for children without access to the internet, such as those in remote areas and from poor households.
Preparing for school reopening
The decision to reopen schools is specific to every country based on epidemiological evidence, public health and socio-economic factors, and a careful analysis of benefits and risks to learning. The decision should also be guided by the best interests of every child.
All children are affected by school closures, but not all children are affected equally.
One of the most cost-effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to clean your hands thoroughly – but not everyone has access to the basics.
Due to lack of access to technology, internet, parental support, or even a desk to study from, for the poorest and the most vulnerable children, continuing to learn from home is sometimes impossible.
In a region long characterized by high levels of inequality, COVID-19 has exacerbated deep inequities in the availability of education.
Principles for safe school reopening
Best interest of the child: reopening must be guided by a balance between health risks and the benefits to children’s well-being and learning.
Context specificity: decisions on and approaches to reopening must be context-specific, flexible and responsive to changing situations.
Inclusiveness and equity: particular attention must be paid to the needs of vulnerable groups, i.e. girls, children with disabilities, refugee and migrant children, children from indigenous communities and those from poor households.
Safe school readiness: safe school protocols must be in place, and schools must have the capacity to ensure safe school operations that are aligned with public health measures.
Call to action
|Urgently prepare for the safe reopening of all schools, supported by rigorous planning and a well-coordinated and integrated approach that addresses the holistic needs of children;|
|Prioritize the safe return of all children to school guided by public health considerations in each country;|
|Protect and increase public education budgets targeting the needs of the most marginalized children and;|
‘Build back better’ towards education systems that are more equitable, inclusive and relevant, as well as resilient to withstand any future crises.