by STAFF WRITER
December 17, 2021
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 17, CMC –The Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, Friday said that despite the rise of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, “nationwide school closures should be avoided whenever possible.”
“When COVID-19 community transmission increases and stringent public health measures become a necessity, schools must be the last places to close and the first to re-open,” she said.
Caribbean countries are reporting cases of the Omicron variant that public health experts and scientists are working hard to understand and assess.
Amid rising uncertainty, many governments, including those in the Caribbean, are weighing whether to keep schools open. But Fore said that one thing is certain is that “another wave of widespread school closures would be disastrous for children”.
Several schools in the Caribbean are now gradually re-opening after being closed for many months as the authorities put in place measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus that has killed and infected thousands in the region. Schools are due to re-open in January following the Christmas break.
“The evidence is clear” and further prolonged, nationwide school closures, resulting in limited resources for students, teachers and parents – and lack of access to remote learning – would have serious consequences.
“(These closures) have wiped out decades of progress in education and rendered childhood unrecognizable. A shadow pandemic of child labour, child marriage and mental health issues has taken hold,” Fore added.
Beyond lost learning, the UNICEF chief said, children have also become less safe by being excluded from a school environment, missing out on daily in-person interactions with friends, access to healthcare, and, too often, their only nutritious meal of the day.
According to the UN agency, this generation of schoolchildren could collectively lose $17 trillion in potential lifetime earnings.
Addressing how to solve this challenge, Fore said that “mitigation measures in schools are effective” and authorities “must use this knowledge to do everything” to keep schools open.
She said member states “must also increase investments in digital connectivity to make sure that no child is left behind,” adding that “2022 cannot be yet another year of disrupted learning.
“It needs to be the year that education, and the best interests of children, take precedence”, she said.