Around 40 million students, including four million first-time learners, have been affected due to closure of educational institutions in Bangladesh.
A child's first day of school – a landmark moment for the youngest students and their parents around the world – has been delayed due to COVID-19 for an estimated 140 million young minds, UNICEF said in a new analysis released as summer break comes to end in many parts of the world.
This number includes almost four million first-time learners from Bangladesh, where educational institutions have been closed since 17 March 2020 – the second-longest COVID-19 school closure in the world.
"The first day of school is a landmark moment in a child's life – setting them off on a life-changing path of personal learning and growth. Most of us can remember countless minor details – what clothes we wore, our teacher's name, who we sat next to. But for millions of children, that important day has been indefinitely postponed," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "As classes resume in many parts of the world, millions of first graders have been waiting to see the inside of a classroom for over a year. Millions more may not see one at all this school term. For the most vulnerable, their risk of never stepping into a classroom in their lifetime is skyrocketing."
In Bangladesh, prolonged closure of educational institutions throughout the pandemic has affected over 40 million students from the pre-primary to the higher education level. The longer children remain out of school, the less likely they are to return as they face increased risks of violence, child labour and child marriage.
“Schools closures and lack of in-person teaching and learning activities have an extremely serious impact not only on children’s education but also on their health, protection and psychosocial well-being,” said Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh.
“Marginalized children are suffering the heaviest losses which push them further into poverty and inequalities now and in the future. It is crucial that we prioritize a safe reopening of schools and invest in remediation of learning losses for those most affected. Our decisions today will influence these children throughout their entire lives,” he added.
Together with the World Bank and UNESCO, UNICEF is calling for governments to focus on three key priorities for recovery in schools: Targeted programmes to bring all children and youth back in school where they can access tailored services to meet their learning, health, psychosocial well-being, and other needs; Effective remedial learning to help students catch up on lost learning; Support for teachers to address learning losses and incorporate digital technology into their teaching.
"Your first day of school is a day of hope and possibility – a day for getting off to a good start. But not all children are getting off to a good start. Some children are not even starting at all," said Fore." We must reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible, and we must immediately address the gaps in learning this pandemic has already created. Unless we do, some children may never catch up."
UNICEF Bangladesh works with the Government of Bangladesh towards safely reopening schools. This includes development of guidelines, including on safety measures such as children and teachers masking up and washing their hands with soap and water in school. UNICEF also helps communicate with children, parents and educators to build their confidence that it is possible to return to school safely.