By Sharon Atieno

As 850 million plus children and youth- roughly half of the world’s population- stay away from schools and universities due to the coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations’ body in-charge of education has come up with interventions to ensure that the progress made in education is not reversed during this period.

Nationwide closures have taken effect in at least 102 countries and local shut-downs in 11 others. This represents more than a doubling in the number of learners prevented from attending educational institutions, with further rises expected, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

As an immediate response to massive school closures, UNESCO has established a COVID-19 task force to provide advice and technical assistance to governments working to provide education to students out of school. The Organization is also holding regular virtual meetings with education ministers from all over the world to share experiences and assess priority needs.

UNESCO is also launching a Global COVID-19 Education Coalition that brings together multilateral partners and the private sector, including Microsoft and the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), to help countries deploy remote learning systems so as to minimize educational disruptions and maintain social contact with learners.

“The current situation imposes immense challenges for countries to be able to provide uninterrupted learning for all children and youth in an equitable manner. We are stepping up on our global response by creating a coalition to ensure a fast and coordinated response. Beyond meeting immediate needs, this effort is an opportunity to rethink education, scale-up distance learning and make education systems more resilient, open and innovative,” says UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

“Difficulties rise exponentially when school closures are prolonged,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education. “Schools, however imperfectly, play an equalizing role in society and when they close, inequalities become far greater.” 

UNESCO will further host regular webinars and virtual meetings to allow country representatives opportunities to share information on the effectiveness of approaches used in different contexts, building on the success of its ministerial videoconference of 10 March that brought together 73 countries.

contact: g.papagiannis@unesco.org

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