Schools first to open and last to close to preserve children’s mental and physical health

UNICEF and its partners are calling for schools to be the first to open and last to close during the pandemic

UNICEF Montenegro
A girl in the classroom
UNICEF Montenegro / Duško Miljanić / 2020
08 April 2021

PODGORICA, 8 APRIL 2021 – The Union of Associations of Parents of Children and Youth with Disabilities ‘Naša inicijativa’ (Our Initiative), the Montenegro National Association of Parents of Children and Youth with Disabilities ‘Nardos’ and local associations of parents of children with disabilities are joining UNICEF in calling for schools to be the first to open and last to close during the pandemic.

A UNICEF and UNESCO global report with data from 191 countries shows that, so far, no causal link has been observed between school openings and COVID-19 transmission. In addition, data on COVID-19 transmission in Montenegro in relation to preschools and primary and high schools, available on the Ministry of Education’s COVID-19 website http://www.covid19.edu.me/, shows that the largest numbers of infected teachers and students are in those municipalities which have the highest infection rates. This data indicates that schools are safe places which do not contribute to a rise in COVID-19 infections, if they are operated in line with all the preventative measures. For this reason, UNICEF is calling for everyone to respect the #DistanceMaskHands measures and for schools to be the last to close and the first to open during lockdowns.

In addition, globally there is mounting data showing that prolonged school closures have negatively impacted students’ learning achievements. Decades of research and experience show that when children are out of school for an extended period of time, their mental health deteriorates and they are at greater risk from all sorts of violence. For children from vulnerable groups, missing out on learning, contact with their peers and all the other support that is regularly provided by schools – even if this lasts only for a few weeks – can lead to negative outcomes that last a lifetime.

The cost of closing schools has been devastating not only for students’ academic achievements, but also for their mental health. We know from previous crises that when education is interrupted, the poorest and most vulnerable children are most affected. That’s why closing schools must be a measure of last resort, after all the other options have been considered, and schools should be the first to reopen.

Juan Santander, UNICEF Montenegro Representative

According to the Montenegro National Association of Parents of Children and Youth with Disabilities ‘Nardos’, school closure negatively affects students with disabilities.

We believe that there is greater damage if schools are closed, especially for children with special educational needs, because following online classes, regardless of all the available technology, is a big problem for them, particularly for children with intellectual disabilities.

Savo Knezevic, president of ‘Nardos’
A boy with disabilities in the classroom
UNICEF Montenegro / Duško Miljanić / 2017

Representatives of the Association of Parents of Children and Youth with Disabilities ‘Naša inicijativa’ (Our Initiative) point out that schools should be the first to open and the last to close, because all educational institutions are respecting the prescribed measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for the past year schools have not been identified as places where the infection has spread.

We are also of the opinion that the benefits of education in school are disproportionately greater than the possible risks of infection for students who do not fall into risk categories. Besides this, the education of children with special educational needs through online applications is not giving the expected results in practice, so children and young people with disabilities should primarily be given the possibility for education in classrooms, because in the past year their socialization and integration has been significantly slowed down and disrupted. We are appealing, first of all, for the reopening of the Resource Centres for children with disabilities, as well as schools in all cities.

Natasa Anastasov from ‘Naša inicijativa’ (Our Initiative)

UNICEF and the associations of parents of children with disabilities agree that education is part of the COVID-19 recovery plan and that additional investments should be made to strengthen the education system during the pandemic.

We are calling for a long-term, systemic solution to be found as soon as possible for the financing of the day-care centres for children with disabilities that offer the necessary additional support services to these children and their families and constitute an important support for inclusive education and socialization of this population.

Savo Knezevic, president of ‘Nardos’

UNICEF, ‘Naša inicijativa’ (Our Initiative), ‘Nardos’ and the local associations of parents of children with disabilities are appealing for the decisions on school closures and reopenings to be based on a thorough analysis of each school’s situation, to be conducted in close cooperation with health experts, teachers, parents and students, because the situation varies from one school to another, and therefore so should the solutions.

The education system was not built to operate within the coronavirus crisis. For this reason, it is necessary to listen to the voices of all stakeholders continuously to adapt the system together with them to better fit their needs during the pandemic. Only through inclusive dialogue and the active participation of all stakeholders can this school year end in a higher-quality way and the next one can be prepared for so that it is significantly better for every student.