As a new academic year begins, UNESCO warns that only one third of students will return to school

This year, 900 million (of the world’s 1.5 billion) pre-primary to secondary students were set to return to school between August and October. According to UNESCO figures, however, only half of them – 433 million in 155 countries – will return to classrooms at this stage. Taking into account the 128 million students in the middle of their academic year, a total of 561 million students, one in three, will attend classes during this period.

One billion students, two-thirds of the global student population, face either school closures or uncertainty. The most vulnerable populations, particularly girls, are especially at risk.

UNESCO has underlined that for over half of the 900 million students starting the new academic year, schooling is expected to be entirely remote, or for some, a mix of distance or classroom learning. However, the majority of these learners and their families are still awaiting clear guidance about what to expect when the 2020-21 academic year begins, even though scheduled start dates are just weeks away.

This situation poses important problems given the persistent inequalities associated with distance learning, which affect vulnerable populations in particular.

“The educational crisis remains severe,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, the United Nations’ lead agency for education around the world. “Several generations are facing the threat of school closures, which concern hundreds of millions of students and have lasted many months. This is an emergency for global education.”

To date, the world’s students have lost an average of 60 days of schooling since lockdowns began in February and March. In a situation like this, the risk of dropouts, decreased quality of learning, and negative social and economic impacts is high. It is therefore crucial that education authorities work quickly to determine how best to ensure a safe return to school, while protecting the health and safety of students and education staff.

To help countries prepare the timing, conditions, and processes for restarting education institutions, UNESCO, in collaboration with UNICEF, the WFP and the World Bank, has developed a framework for reopening schools and is working closely with education ministries on plans to get students back in classrooms.

Today, through the Global Education Coalition, UNESCO is launching the #LearningNeverStops campaign to ensure the continued learning of girls during school closures, and their safe return when schools reopen, in light of the many obstacles they face outside education, including adolescent pregnancy, early and forced marriage, and violence. Through its Coalition partnerships, a set of communication and advocacy toolkits and a girls’ back to school guide have been produced and are being disseminated to all actors concerned.

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