UNICEF scales up support in Pacific Island countries to keep children learning, as COVID-19 forces majority of schools worldwide to close

26 March 2020
John Issac, 9, lives near Kings Cross, a remote village on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu.
UNICEFPacific/2015/Estey

SUVA, 26 March 2020 – As nationwide school closures disrupt the education for more than 80 per cent of students worldwide, UNICEF today announced it will significantly scale up support in all countries to help children continue their learning while keeping schools safe. 

“As schools in the majority of Pacific Island countries have closed, UNICEF is supporting governments on critical actions to prepare and respond in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak, including ensuring that necessary actions are taken to protect children’s education and that learning continues,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett.

Based on lessons learned with the school closures in response to natural disasters, the longer children stay away from school, the less likely they are to return. Providing children alternative ways to learn at home including through play, reading and educational radio and TV programmes is a critical part of our response,” he added.

To help curb the disruption to children’s education and keep children learning safely, UNICEF has allocated additional funding to accelerate work with governments and partners in more than 145 low- and middle-income countries including Pacific Island countries. The initial global allocation of US $13 million – nearly $9 million of which is from a contribution made by the Global Partnership for Education – will be catalytic by supporting national governments and a wide range of education partners in each country to develop plans to enable a rapid, system-wide response. UNICEF will programme over half a million of these funds in Pacific Island countries.

The initiative will enable countries to prepare alternative learning programmes in the case of school closures, and help schools keep children and their communities safe by providing vital information on handwashing and other hygiene practices. The funds will also help support children’s mental health and prevent stigma and discrimination by encouraging students to avoid stereotypes when talking about the virus.

UNICEF is working with Pacific Island governments, in collaboration with other Pacific education cluster members to:

  1. Support governments’ education contingency and response plans, including safe school operations, remote learning in case of school closures, and planning for the reopening of schools.
  2. Support the planning and implementation of safe school operation and risk communication; equipping schools with hygiene packages and circulating critical information on disease prevention; and training teachers and caregivers in psycho-social and mental health support for themselves and students.
  3. Ensure continuity of learning and access to remote learning programs for all children, including the most vulnerable, in case of school closures, including designing and preparing alternative education programmes through online, radio, television and activity kits with teacher support. 
  4. Enhance knowledge sharing, capacity building and system strengthening for the current response and future pandemics.

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Notes to Editors:

Earlier this month, UNICEF, along with the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, released a Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools.

Media contacts

Zubnah Khan
Communication Officer
UNICEF Pacific
Tel: +679 330 0439 Ext. 175
Tel: 715 7586

About UNICEF

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/pacificislands/

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