COVID-19 blocks nearly 77 mln children from schooling in six countries: UNICEF

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UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- Schools for nearly 77 million students in six countries continue to be almost completely closed 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an updated data analysis released on Thursday by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The six countries are Bangladesh, Kuwait, Panama, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

In total, an estimated 131 million students in 11 countries have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning since the start of the pandemic. Around 27 percent of countries worldwide continue to have schools fully or partially closed.

"As classes resume in many countries around the world, millions of students are heading into a third academic year without stepping foot in a classroom," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "The losses that students are incurring from not being in school may never be recovered."

The fund said shuttered schools create a shadow crisis beyond lost education for children missing school-based meals and routine vaccinations. Children also suffer social isolation, increased anxiety and being exposed to abuse and violence.

School closures led some pupils to drop out, some into child labor and child marriage, UNICEF said. Some parents had to leave jobs to care for children and assist with learning needs, pushing some families into poverty, adding to the economic crisis.

While remote learning was a lifeline for millions of schoolchildren, access to the necessary technology and the quality of the curriculum was uneven, the fund said.

Experience shows that schools are not the main drivers of transmission and that it is possible to keep them open for in-person learning, said UNICEF. It urges governments, local authorities and school administrations to reopen schools as soon as possible and take all possible steps to mitigate against transmission of the virus in schools.

"Schools must be the last to close and the first to reopen. We have to start putting the best interest of every child first. In all but the most extreme cases, this means getting students back into the classroom," said Fore. Enditem

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