PANAMA CITY, 23 March 2020 - In Latin America and the Caribbean, over 154 million children, about 95 per cent of the enrolled, are temporarily out of school due to the COVID-19, UNICEF reported today based on UNESCO data.
About 90 per cent of early childhood centers and pre-primary, primary and secondary schools in Latin America and the Caribbean will stay closed for the next few days or weeks and this percentage is quickly growing. This situation, which could last longer than initially planned, increases the risk of permanent drop out, especially for the most vulnerable children.
Therefore, it is urgent to take measures to avoid the interruption of education and guarantee access to continued and flexible distance learning modalities for all children at home, including those without internet access or living with a disability.
“This is an unprecedented educational crisis in the recent history of Latin America and the Caribbean”, said Bernt Aasen, Regional Director a.i. UNICEF for Latin America and the Caribbean. ”Never have so many schools been closed at the same time. The expansion of the coronavirus COVID-19 will leave most boys and girls out of school in the coming weeks. If school closure is further extended, there is a great risk that children fall behind in their learning and we fear that the most vulnerable students will never return to school. It is vital that they do not stop learning from home.”
“To continue their education at home, all available tools and channels will have to be used, whether through radio, television, internet or cell phones. We will only be able to face this challenge through a joint effort of governments, the private sector, parents and children”, he added.
The closure of schools also implies the interruption of access to other important basic services, such as school meals, recreational programs, extracurricular activities and pedagogical support. School health, water, sanitation and hygiene services will also be affected. For schools that remain open it is essential to ensure access to soap and safe water and to promote hygiene practices.
Many countries started implementing distance learning modalities, including courses through digital platforms. However, these modalities are not guaranteed throughout the region, nor do all families have access to them, especially the most vulnerable. It is a priority to provide accessible content on radio and television to low-income children, those at risk of exclusion, without internet access, with disabilities, as well as migrants and indigenous communities.
This week, UNICEF and its partners will launch the regional outreach campaign #LearningAtHome through their digital channels to provide families and educators in the region with free educational and entertainment tools, as well as tips and examples of good health and hygiene practices.
UNICEF recognizes the efforts being made by all governments in the region to guarantee the right to education and is working with them and other partners to develop more flexible distance learning modalities that include online, radio and television content, reading materials and guided homework.