The Ministries and international organisations call for schools in Ukraine be the first to reopen
The Ministries, UNICEF and WHO urge local authorities to keep schools open to ensure a fundamental right of the child to education amid COVID-19 pandemic. This joint call was published ahead of the World Children’s Day, which is celebrated on 20 November to mark adoption of the UN Convention on Rights of the Child.
“As Ukraine experiences a higher level of COVID-19 infections than ever before, the best interests of the child shall remain overarching to any decision-making, including on access to education and schools operation. UNICEF welcomes the recent decision of a few local communities to reopen schools respecting COVID-19 preventive measures,’’ said Murat Sahin, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine.
“Since the beginning of this school year, I have seen the rigorous effort of school staff and students in meeting necessary health care recommendations. The losses that children are incurring from not being in a classroom may never be recovered. Schools must be the last to close and the first to reopen. We must prioritize better. We can reopen schools safely, and we must.” added UNICEF Chief in Ukraine.
As of today, 35 per cent of the primary and secondary schools across Ukraine are shuttered, despite nearly 96 per cent of school staff receiving at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
According to a multi-agency report, school closures have created a shadow crisis for children. Beyond falling behind on their education, many children are missing out on school-based meals, experiencing social isolation, or being exposed to abuse and violence. For some, school closures have led to drop out. Many parents have been unable to continue with their employment while balancing their children’s care and learning needs. Some have lost their jobs entirely, pushing their families into poverty and creating a deeper economic crisis.
“I have underlined many times that children should learn in the classrooms. Social adaptation and in-personal communication are important factors to impact the quality of the curriculum. The Ministry continues closely monitoring the vaccination coverage among school staff, as well as recommending the regional and municipal departments of education to return children to schools, respecting all required COVID-19 protective measures,” said the Minister of Education and Science Sergiy Shkarlet.
“School staff have been among a vaccination priority group from the very first stages of the immunization campaign roll out. Every education worker has access to vaccines. This helped to ensure 96 per cent of education workers to receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. We are grateful to every teacher for a responsible attitude. With the help of vaccination, they are able to create a safe learning environment for peers and children to safely return to schools,” said Ihor Kuzin, Deputy Minister of Health.
While remote learning has been a lifeline for millions of schoolchildren, access to the technology and the quality of the curriculum have been uneven even within communities, leaving the most vulnerable families with children behind.
According to the international reports, there is clear evidence that primary and secondary schools are not among the main drivers of transmission. Meanwhile, the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools is manageable with appropriate mitigation strategies in most settings.
“Nowadays, it is important to ensure that we have good systems in place within the schools to be able to monitor the health of the students and staff. Instead of closing educational institutions, we can reduce transmission through a wide range of measures, depending upon the level of transmission, in places where it occurs. This includes keeping physical distance at schools, cleaning hands frequently, wearing masks, ensuring adequate ventilation in classrooms and increasing access to testing. We observe a very high number of new COVID-19 cases in Ukraine and it is essential to follow all recommendations, including COVID-19 vaccination of teachers. Vaccination is an important step to keep teachers, students safe and schools open,” said Dr. Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative and Head of WHO Country Office in Ukraine.
The Ministries and international organisations urge the local authorities to safely reopen schools as soon as possible and take all necessary steps to mitigate against transmission of the virus in schools, such as:
- Implementing mask policies for students and staff in accordance with national guidelines;
- Providing handwashing facilities and/or hand sanitiser;
- Frequently cleaning of 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 to help protect them from community transmission.
To support these efforts, the updated international COVID-19 Schooling Guideline is available to provide practical and flexible advice for national and local authorities and aid their efforts to return students to in-person learning.
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.