Schoolchildren worldwide have lost 1.8 trillion hours and counting of in-person learning due to COVID-19 lockdowns, says UNICEF

Urging governments to reopen schools as soon as possible, UNICEF unveils No Time to Lose – a clock counting hours of lost learning – as the UN General Assembly gets underway in NY

17 September 2021
UNICEF classroom installation with a blackboard.
UNICEF/UN0522076/Gary He/UNICEF via Getty Images

NEW YORK, 17 September 2021 – Schoolchildren around the world have lost an estimated 1.8 trillion hours – and counting – of in-person learning since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. As a result, young learners have been cut off from their education and the other vital benefits schools provide.

To call attention to this education crisis, UNICEF today unveiled ‘No Time to Lose' at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The centrepiece of the installation is a clock, modelled to look like the blackboard of an empty classroom, situated at the UN Visitors’ Plaza in front of the General Assembly Building. The clock is a real-time counter, displaying the growing cumulative number of in-person learning hours every schoolchild in the world has lost and continues to lose since the pandemic's onset. The empty classroom consists of 18 desks, one for every month of the pandemic-caused education disruptions.

The installation is being created ahead of the opening of the General Debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), a period when some leaders will take the opportunity to return to United Nations headquarters in person for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.

“Next week, the United Nations will open its doors to delegations from around the world. But in many countries, the doors of schools will remain closed to children and young people,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. “We are short-changing an entire generation whose minds and futures hang in the balance. We must prioritize the reopening of schools and support those who have lost out during the pandemic. There is no time to lose.”

This year, the General Debate and associated annual meetings will take place in a hybrid format, with many events taking place virtually. The installation, open to delegations which will have elected to attend General Assembly meetings in-person, is a stark reminder that millions of schoolchildren remain locked out of their schools and a call for leaders to act urgently on this education crisis.

The installation will be up from 17 September to 27 September with the conclusion of UNGA.*

Globally, around 131 million schoolchildren in 11 countries have missed three-quarters of their in-person learning from March 2020 to September 2021. Among them, 59 per cent – or nearly 77 million – have missed almost all in-person instruction time. Around 27 per cent of countries continue to have schools fully or partially closed. Additionally, according to UNESCO’s latest data, more than 870 million students at all levels are currently facing disruptions to their education.

UNICEF urges governments, local authorities, and school administrations to reopen schools as soon as possible and take all possible steps to mitigate against transmission of the virus in schools, such as:  

  • Implementing mask policies for students and staff that are in accordance with national and local guidelines;
  • Providing handwashing facilities and/or hand sanitiser;
  • Frequently cleaning surfaces and shared objects;
  • Ensuring adequate and appropriate ventilation;
  • Cohorting (keeping students and teachers in small groups that do not mix); staggering start, break, bathroom, meals and end time; and alternating physical presence;
  • Establishing information sharing mechanisms with parents, students and teachers;
  • While not a prerequisite to reopen schools, teachers should be prioritised to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, after frontline health workers and those most at risk, to protect them from community transmission.

Additionally, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP and the World Bank previously issued the Framework for School Reopening to provide practical and flexible advice for national and local governments and aid their efforts to return students to in-person learning.

"Every hour a child spends in the classroom is precious – an opportunity to expand their horizons and maximize their potential. And with each passing moment, countless amounts of opportunity are lost,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “1.8 trillion hours – and counting – is an unfathomable amount of time. Equally unfathomable is setting priorities around mitigating the impacts of COVID that do not put our children’s future first. We can and must reopen schools as soon as possible. The clock is ticking.”


Notes to editors:

*NOTE: Due to the prevailing conditions under COVID-19, media accreditation will not be issued for the high-level period of the 76th session of the General Assembly. Access during high level week will be limited to accredited media representatives who have an office at UN Headquarters (resident correspondents) and the official media of visiting delegations. Other interested media are encouraged to join the photo call on 17 September to obtain access prior to high-level week.

Media contacts

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Tel: +1 917 957 6536


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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