UNICEF calls for the reopening of schools

‘We could lose a whole generation’

30 September 2020 | Education

Windhoek • Steffi Balzar
According to United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), safe school reopenings won’t only reduce escalating costs for all those involved, but also prevent knowledge from being lost forever.
According to a UNICEF statement, there are encouraging reports that 13 of 21 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have continued classroom attendance (including Namibia and South Africa) and four more have set a date for the return of learners.
Countries with large student populations, such as Kenya, had yet to decide whether they would reopen schools this year. However, this would continue to expose children to dangers lurking outside of school, the organisation said.
“Of the approximately 65 million children who are currently not going to school in this region, only around 50% have access to an alternative learning format,” UNICEF said. In addition to an increase in violence against children, millions of children also miss the only nutritious meal of the day that they normally received at school.
“Seven months into the pandemic, we need to be clear about the seriousness of this crisis: We are at risk of losing a generation,” said Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF’s regional director in Eastern and Southern Africa. “We see a loss of knowledge, increasing violence, increasing child labour, forced weddings, teenage pregnancies and more malnutrition.”
He added that: “We are at a time of unprecedented population growth.”

Averting drop outs
In his opinion, future workers could support an economic upswing and drastically reduce poverty in Africa if they received high quality instruction in school. According to UNICEF, this goal can be achieved. The safe reopening of schools by early October would allow students to finish the academic year and avert the risk of permanent drop-out.
UNICEF claims that scientific evidence shows that children are not super-spreaders of Covid-19. In addition, only 2.5% of the cases in southern and eastern Africa were attributed to school-age children (5-18 years, WHO).
“At the beginning of this pandemic, efforts were made to raise awareness of the dangers of the virus,” Fall said. “Things have moved on. We now know that children are at greater risk when they are out of the classroom. This message needs to be heard.”
Moreover, UNICEF says that there is a growing regional and global practice that shows that schools can safely reopen with political will and community engagement.

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