UNICEF has urged governments across the globe to keep schools open averting a learning catastrophe and putting children back on the learning track, even as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues its spread all over the world.
“Keep schools open. An estimated 616 million children are currently affected by full or partial school closures,” the UN agency’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement on Friday.
“We know that mitigation measures help keep schools open. We also know that investments in digital connectivity can help us make sure that no child is left behind. We need bold action to enable every child to return to school.
“This includes providing comprehensive support with a particular focus on marginalized children in each community, such as catch-up classes, mental health, and nutrition support, protection, and other key services.
Recommending the vaccination of teachers and school staff immediately, Ms Fore said, “Teachers and school personnel should be fully supported and prioritized to receive COVID-19 vaccines, once frontline health personnel and high-risk populations are vaccinated.”
As for the vaccination of children, she said UNICEF supports the vaccination of children once vaccines are available to them and once priority groups are fully protected.
She called for not making vaccination ‘a pre-requisite for in-person schooling’. “Making access to in-person schooling contingent on COVID-19 vaccination risks denying children access to education and increasing inequalities,” she cautioned.
“Consistent with WHO recommendations, UNICEF recommends keeping schools open and ensuring that countries’ COVID-19 control strategies facilitate children’s participation in education and other aspects of social life, even without vaccinating children and adolescents,” the UN agency chief pointed out.
“In crisis conditions, there are always difficult decisions that force difficult trade-offs, and we recognize the unprecedented challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic is creating for school systems worldwide. But the stakes are too high. We must collectively do everything we can to keep children in school.”