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UNICEF USA: Reopening Schools is Priority in Latin America & Caribbean

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On 16 September 2020, a student stands in an empty classroom in Panama City, Panama.

A generation of children in Latin America and the Caribbean are missing out on schooling because of COVID-19. Due to the pandemic, 97 per cent of the region’s students have been deprived of their normal schooling. More than seven months into the pandemic, COVID-19 is putting education on hold for more than 137 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is according to a new UNICEF report about the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on education. Since the start of the pandemic, children in Latin American and the Caribbean have already lost on average four times more days of schooling (174) compared to the rest of the world. In a region with over 11 million cases of COVID-19 to date, most students are now at risk of missing out on an entire school year. While schools are gradually reopening in several parts of the world, the vast majority of classrooms are still closed across the region. Almost half of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have yet to set a date for school reopening.

The report also finds that COVID-19 has further widened the education gaps between rich and poor families in Latin America and the Caribbean. New UNICEF data shows that the percentage of children not receiving any form of education across the region has soared dramatically, from 4 to 18 per cent in the past few months. UN projections reveal that COVID-19 may push up to 3 million additional children out of school in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Because 1 in 6 schools lack access to water in Latin American and Caribbean, UNICEF calls upon governments to urgently accelerate the preparedness for safe reopening of schools by installing water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, training teachers and adopting more inclusive learning approaches.

While the epidemiological situation is diverse between and within countries, the reopening of schools must be a priority for governments as soon as it is safe. UNICEF experience shows that safe school reopening works when implemented gradually, in the best interest of children and with overall public health considerations. UNICEF urges countries across the region to protect and increase education budgets, with special attention to the needs of the marginalized children most at risk of dropping out of school.