Schools must also go beyond places of learning to rebuild children’s mental and physical health, social development and nutrition, said United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Chief of Education Robert Jenkins.
While marking the International Day of Education and as the Covid -19 pandemic nears its two-year mark, UNICEF says, children have lost basic numeracy and literacy skills.
Learning losses to school closures have left up to 70 per cent of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand a simple text, up from 53 per cent pre-pandemic in low- and middle-income countries.
According to UNICEF Chief of Education Robert Jenkins, noted that reopening of schools was not enough calling on schools to go beyond places of learning to rebuild children’s mental and physical health, social development and nutrition.
“In March, we will mark two years of Covid-19-related disruptions to global education. Quite simply, we are looking at a nearly insurmountable scale of loss to children’s schooling,” said Robert Jenkins.
The UN Chief adding that: “While the disruptions to learning must end, just reopening schools is not enough. Students need intensive support to recover lost education. Schools must also go beyond places of learning to rebuild children’s mental and physical health, social development and nutrition.”
In Ethiopia, primary school children are estimated to have learned between 30 to 40 per cent of the math they would have learned if it had been a normal school year.
Globally, disruption to education has meant millions of children have significantly missed out on the academic learning they would have acquired if they had been in the classroom, with younger and more marginalized children facing the greatest loss.
According to a statement by UNICEF, in the US, learning losses have been observed in many states including Texas, California, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland. In Texas, for example, two thirds of children in grade 3 tested below their grade level in math in 2021, compared to half of children in 2019.
In several Brazilian states, around 3 in 4 children in grade 2 are off-track in reading, up from 1 in 2 children pre-pandemic. Across Brazil, 1 in 10 students aged 10-15 reported they are not planning to return to school once their schools reopen.
In South Africa, school children are between 75 per cent and a full school year behind where they should be. Some 400,000 to 500,000 students reportedly dropped out of school altogether between March 2020 and July 2021.
Follow-on consequences of school closures are on the rise in addition to learning loss, school closures have impacted children’s mental health, reduced their access to a regular source of nutrition, and increased their risk of abuse.
UNICEF says, a growing body of evidence shows that Covid-19 has caused high rates of anxiety and depression among children and young people, with some studies finding that girls, adolescents and those living in rural areas are most likely to experience these problems.
Additionally, more than 370 million children globally missed out on school meals during school closures, losing what is for some children the only reliable source of food and daily nutrition.