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Unicef: First day of school indefinitely postponed for 140 million students worldwide

  • Published at 03:34 pm August 24th, 2021
In Bangladesh, prolonged closure of educational institutions
In Bangladesh, prolonged closure of educational institutions has affected over 40 million students from the pre-primary to the higher education level Courtesy

At least eight million of these young learners have been waiting for over a year

A child's first day of school – a landmark moment for the youngest students and their parents around the world – has been delayed due to Covid-19 for an estimated 140 million young minds, Unicef said in a new analysis.

For an estimated eight million of these students, the wait for their first day of in-person learning has been over a year and counting, as they live in places where schools have been closed throughout the pandemic.

This number includes almost four million first-time learners from Bangladesh, where educational institutions have been closed since 17 March 2020 – the second-longest Covid-19 school closure in the world.

The first day of school is a landmark moment in a child's life – setting them off on a life-changing path of personal learning and growth. 

“Most of us can remember countless minor details – what clothes we wore, our teacher's name, who we sat next to. But for millions of children, that important day has been indefinitely postponed," said Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore. 

As classes resume in many parts of the world, millions of first graders have been waiting to see the inside of a classroom for over a year. Millions more may not see one at all this school term. For the most vulnerable, their risk of never stepping into a classroom in their lifetime is skyrocketing, she added

The first grade sets up the building blocks for all future learning, with introductions to reading, writing, and math. It is also a period when in-person learning helps children gain independence, adapt to new routines, and develop meaningful relationships with teachers and students. 

In-person learning also enables teachers to identify and address learning delays, mental health issues, and abuse that could negatively affect children’s well-being.

In 2020, schools globally were fully closed for an average of 79 teaching days. However, for 168 million students, after the pandemic began, schools were shuttered for nearly the entire year. Even now, many children are facing an unprecedented second year of disruption to their education. 

The associated consequences of school closures – learning loss, mental distress, missed vaccinations, and heightened risk of drop out, child labour, and child marriage – will be felt by many children, especially the youngest learners in critical development stages.

While countries worldwide are taking some actions to provide remote learning, at least 29% of primary students are not being reached. 

In addition to lack of assets for remote learning, the youngest children may not be able to participate due to a lack of support using the technology, a poor learning environment, pressure to do household chores, or being forced to work.

Situation in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, prolonged closure of educational institutions throughout the pandemic has affected over 40 million students from the pre-primary to the higher education level. The longer children remain out of school, the less likely they are to return as they face increased risks of violence, child labour and child marriage.

“Schools closures and lack of in-person teaching and learning activities have an extremely serious impact not only on children’s education but also on their health, protection and psychosocial well-being,” said Tomoo Hozumi, Unicef Representative in Bangladesh. 

Marginalized children are suffering the heaviest losses which push them further into poverty and inequalities now and in the future. It is crucial that we prioritize a safe reopening of schools and invest in remediation of learning losses for those most affected. 

“Our decisions today will influence these children throughout their entire lives,” he added.

Studies have shown that positive school experiences during this transition period are a predictor of children’s future social, emotional and educational outcomes.

At the same time, children who fall behind in learning during the early years often stay behind for the remaining time they spend in school, and the gap widens over the years. The number of years of education a child receives also directly affects their future earnings.

Unless mitigation measures are implemented, the World Bank estimates a loss of $10 trillion in earnings over time for this entire generation of students. 

Existing evidence shows the cost of addressing learning gaps are lower and more effective when they are tackled earlier, and that investments in education support economic recovery, growth and prosperity.

Unicef urges governments to reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible, and to provide a comprehensive recovery response for students.

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