Coronavirus and education: what is the global impact on students, families and communities?

UNESCO says the number of students missing school globally due to COVID-19 is “unparalleled”, impacting almost 290 million worldwide.

Children in masks due to Coronavirus
A record number of children, youth and university students are not in education because of school closures, in some cases temporary or indefinite, as world governments work to slow the spread of Coronavirus.According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as of 4 March 2020, 22 countries on three different continents have announced or implemented school closures.

Which countries have mandated school closures due to COVID-19 containment measures?

UNESCO states that over a dozen countries, including China, Italy and Japan, have shut schools nationwide, impacting almost 290 million students worldwide.A further nine countries have implemented localised school closures to prevent or contain the spread of COVID-19. Should these countries also order nationwide school closures, it would prevent an additional 180 million from attending school, a potential of 470 million students who will be out of education.In Italy, for example, all schools and universities will be closed nationwide until 15 March. Italy has been the European country hardest hit by COVID-19 so far, with more than 3,000 reported cases and over 100 deaths.The situation is fluid in the United States, with only a handful of schools cancelling classes thus far over the Coronavirus. However, the city of Los Angeles declared a state of emergency on 4 March, advising parents of school closures to come in the US’s second-largest public school district.GIESF-in-text-bannerOn Thursday, 5 March 2020, all public and private schools through the fifth grade in India’s capital, New Delhi, were ordered closed until at least 31 March 2020. These closures will affect more than two million students.However, the bulk of students come from China, where more than 233 million students are missing school because of COVID-19. This number includes Hong Kong and Macao. In Japan, school has been cancelled for nearly 16.5 students.

What does UNESCO say about the Coronavirus-related school closures?

"We are working with countries to assure the continuity of learning for all, especially disadvantaged children and youth who tend to be the hardest hit by school closures," stated UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay on Wednesday."While temporary school closures as a result of health and other crises are not new unfortunately, the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education."
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Where are these COVID-19 school closures?

Country-wide school closures, impacting 291,550,056 learners:

China [including Hong Kong and Macao]233,169,621
Democratic People's Republic of Korea4,229,170
Georgia          732,451
Iran (Islamic Republic of)14,561,998
Kuwait          632,988
Republic of Korea       7,044,963
United Arab Emirates1,170,565

Localised school closures, with risk to 471,011,011 learners:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bhutan
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • India
  • Iraq
  • Pakistan
  • Palestine
  • Ukraine
  • United Kingdom
  • USA
  • Viet Nam

What are the adverse consequences of these Coronavirus-related school closures? 

Schools do not just provide education for students but rather provide support for families and communities. Parents in some countries will have to take time from work, either paid or unpaid leave, to care for their children - which will have a knock-on effect on economic productivity both for the family and the general global economy. Some world governments are trying to help. France, for example, has promised 14 days of paid sick leave of parents if they have no choice but to watch their children during periods of self-isolation. Japan is offering subsidies to companies to help with the costs of parents’ taking leave to care for their children.Thus, these unprecedented worldwide school closures will carry high social and economic costs.UNESCO states that some of the reasons why these school closures will be so harmful are:
  • "Interrupted learning: Schooling provides essential learning and when schools close, children and youth are deprived opportunities for growth and development. The disadvantages are disproportionate for under-privileged learners who tend to have fewer educational opportunities beyond school.
  • Nutrition: Many children and youth rely on free or discounted meals provided at schools for food and healthy nutrition. When schools close nutrition is comprised.
  • Parents unprepared for distance and home schooling: When schools close parents are often asked to facilitate the learning of children at home and can struggle to perform this task. This is especially true for parents with limited education and resources.
  • Unequal access to digital learning portals: Lack of access to technology or good internet connectivity is an obstacle to continued learning, especially for students from disadvantaged families.
  • Gaps in childcare: In the absence of alternative options, working parents often leave children alone when schools close and this can lead to risky behaviors, including increased influence of peer pressure and substance abuse.
  • High economic costs: Working parents are more likely to miss work when schools close in order to take care of their children, incurring wage loss in many instances and negatively impacting productivity.
  • Unintended strain on health-care system: Women often represent a large share of health-care workers and often cannot attend work because of childcare obligations that result from school closures. This means that many medical professionals are not at the facilities where they are most needed during a health crisis.
  • Increased pressure on schools and school systems that remain open: Localized school closures place burdens on schools as parents and officials redirect children to schools that are open.
  • Dropout rates tend to rise: It is a challenge to ensure children and youth return and stay in school when schools reopen after closures. This is especially true of protracted closures.
  • Social isolation: Schools are hubs of social activity and human interaction. When schools are closed, many children and youth miss out of on social contact that is essential to learning and development."

Online learning in the age of Coronavirus

UNESCO will hold an emergency meeting on 10 March 2020 over coronavirus-related school closures. The agency said it is supporting the implementation of large-scale distance-learning programs and platforms to reach students remotely.Schools and governments are seeking ways to keep children educated while at home. Italian universities are using distance, online learning to educate both Italian students - and those American and foreign students who have had to return to their home countries due to the closure of US University programmes in Italy. Students at a school in South Devon are also using online classes after their school was shut after a confirmed case of coronavirus.
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