COVID-19: over 97 per cent of students still out of the classrooms in Latin America and the Caribbean

09 November 2020
Children wear masks to get essentials at a nearby grocery store in Palencia, Guatemala.
Children wear masks to get essentials at a nearby grocery store in Palencia, Guatemala.

PANAMA CITY, 9 November 2020 - More than seven months into the pandemic, COVID-19 is putting education on hold for more than 137 million children - 97 per cent of students - in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a new UNICEF report about the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on education.   

Since the start of the pandemic, children in Latin American and the Caribbean have already lost on average four times more days of schooling (174) compared to the rest of the world. In a region with over 11 million cases of COVID-19 to date, most students are now at risk of missing out on an entire school year. 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.    

The report also finds that COVID-19 has further widened the education gaps between rich and poor families in Latin America and the Caribbean. New UNICEF data shows that the percentage of children not receiving any form of education across the region has soared dramatically, from 4 to 18 per cent in the past few months. UN projections reveal that COVID-19 may push up to 3 million additional children out of school 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.”  

The education gains earned by Latin America and the Caribbean over the past decades are now at risk of being reversed. The economic impact of this education crisis will be felt for years to come.

Together with partners, UNICEF teams are on the ground working to protect children’s right to learn in every single country across Latin America and the Caribbean. Since the beginning of the school closures, about 42 million students in the region have been receiving UNICEF-supported distance and home-based learning delivered through radio, TV, internet, and other platforms.  

However, new UNICEF estimates suggest that 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. Radio, TV and internet education programs should be strengthened to reach students who are less connected to the internet. Before and beyond school reopening, bridging the current digital gap helps build more resilient education systems to withstand potential future crises together with the private sector.    

Children at higher risk of dropping out of school, such as girls, migrant children, children from indigenous communities, and children with disabilities should receive special educational support.  Economic incentives such as support for tuition fees, school meals or transportation costs should be put in place to encourage parents to send their children to school.  

“In Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 has pushed millions of families into poverty,” stressed Mr. Aasen. “Without help, many parents will be left with no choice but to sacrifice their children’s education.  It is not too late to build better, more resilient, more inclusive education systems than before the pandemic. Right now, it’s urgent to get children back into schools, guided by public health considerations”   

While 1 in 6 schools lack access to water in Latin American and Caribbean, UNICEF calls upon governments to urgently accelerate the preparedness for reopening of schools including installing water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, training teachers and adopting more inclusive learning approaches.  

While the epidemiological situation is diverse between and within countries, the reopening of schools must be a priority for governments.

UNICEF urges countries across the region to protect and increase education budgets, with special attention to the needs of the marginalized children most at risk of dropping out of school.    

Media contacts

Marisol Quintero
UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa
Tel: +254 740138452
Tel: +254 740138452
Laurent Duvillier
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: + 507 6169 9886

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