Schools should be the last to close and first to reopen

Statement by Patricia Di Giovanni, UNICEF Representative – a call to ensure the COVID-19 crisis does not become a child rights crisis

31 October 2020
Children wearing masks stand in a classroom

SKOPJE, 31 October 2020: “As the country experiences a higher level of COVID-19 infections than in the spring, the best interests of children must be central to any decision-making on when and how to keep schools open. 

This country has made tremendous efforts to keep children learning during this unprecedented pandemic. While most children continue their education through distance learning, the decision to reopen schools for early graders with the recommended preventive and protective measures, is a positive step towards reducing the negative impacts of prolonged school closures. 

Global evidence shows that adhering to enhanced prevention measures in schools and timely detection and isolation of cases and their contacts, has so far been successful in preventing progression to larger outbreaks in most situations. In this country, according to data published by the Ministry of Education and Science, only 0.05 per cent of students and 0.6 per cent of teachers engaged in classroom-based learning have been infected since schools reopened. This indicates that schools are unlikely to be the main driver of COVID-19 transmission, especially when preventive and protective measures in schools are applied.

Furthermore, global early modelling studies suggested that closing schools reduced community transmission less than other social distancing interventions. Also, studies to date show less spread among children under ten years than in older children. 

There is a need to consider benefits versus the risks across health, education, and socioeconomic factors when considering whether to reduce in-person education. What we know for sure is that school closures have clear negative impacts on child health, education and development, family income and the overall economy. This is why, we call for schools to be the last to close and first to reopen when it is safe to do so. The shutting down schools should only be considered when there are no other alternatives.” 

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