COPENHAGEN / GENEVA / PARIS, July 2, 2021 – Schools should remain open for as long as possible with adequate public health and social measures in place, and governments should use the summer months to implement measures that protect in-person schooling in the next school year, an international group of experts established by the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe said in its latest recommendations on schooling during COVID-19.
The updated recommendations come against a backdrop of increasing infection rates in some countries of the Region, mainly due to the combination of relaxed public health and social measures, increased social mix and inequalities. vaccines in the Region.
âThe summer months present a valuable opportunity for governments to put in place the right set of measures that will help keep infection rates low and avoid resorting to school closures, which we like ‘ve seen, have such a detrimental effect on education. , the social and mental well-being of our children and young people, âsaid Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. âThe spread of new variants, coupled with the presence of pockets of unvaccinated people in schools, means there is no time to waste. The time to act is now. We cannot allow the pandemic to deprive children of their education and development. “
âAlthough most countries offer distance learning, the loss of learning and the impact of not attending school has been difficult for children. This is particularly the case for vulnerable and marginalized children. Over the past year, parents, caregivers and children have tried to adjust to their ‘new’ learning environment, but we cannot risk having another year of disruption, âsaid Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia. “We need to work together throughout the summer to make sure the children can safely return to school and catch up with their learning.”
“We must emerge from the education and health crisis caused by COVID-19 with more resilient education and health systems, and pursue ambitious goals to recover education and transform it so that every student learns. better, have stronger social and emotional skills, better health and well-being, âsaid Tao Zhan, director of the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (UNESCO- EITI). “We must act now. The future of this generation is at stake.”
The updated recommendations focus on eight key points affecting children and schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- The use of PCR or rapid diagnostic antigen tests in schools;
- The need for studies that assess the effectiveness of risk mitigation measures on infection control;
- The importance of protecting academic performance, mental and social well-being;
- The need to account for children living in vulnerable situations;
- Changes in the school environment that benefit children’s health and infection control;
- The importance of including children in all decision making;
- School-based vaccination strategies; and
- Keeping schools open as a primary objective.
School closures should only be considered as a measure of last resort, if and when “major epidemics occur or transmission in the community cannot be controlled by any other measure,” TAG members note in their comments. recommendations.
Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on education
Across the WHO European Region, the pandemic had a disastrous impact on school enrollment during the 2020-2021 school year. UNESCO’s monitoring of national distance learning solutions shows that 44 of the 53 countries in the WHO European Region closed their schools nationally at the height of the pandemic in April 2020.
School closures have serious consequences for the education, development and well-being of children and adolescents. In addition to depriving them of the necessary social interactions that support and promote their mental well-being, school closures led to distance learning devices that did not offer the same academic outcomes. In addition, even under the best of conditions, socially disadvantaged children and those most in need of educational support have fallen behind, increasing social inequalities between and within countries.
While most countries reopened their schools in late summer 2020, rising infection rates during the fall and winter months have led to stricter measures in dozens of countries. , including, in some areas, the closure of schools. However, research conducted in some Member States during the winter months of 2020 shows that the incidence of SARC-CoV-2 in students was lower than in the general population, with secondary infections in schools accounting for less than 1 % of infections.
During the 2020-2021 school year, we saw the biggest educational disruption in history. With these recommendations, we now have the evidence and the tools to ensure that children and youth can safely return to school in person.
NOTE TO EDITORS
The recommendations were presented at a high-level ministerial event jointly organized by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations for education, science and culture (UNESCO). They were published by the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) — an independent group of experts established by the WHO Regional Director for Europe — and are based on the best available evidence and advice from experts on school safety during the pandemic.
For more information or interview requests, please contact:
WHO: Bhanu Bhatnagar, [email protected]
UNICEF: Shima Islam, [email protected]
UNESCO: Tigran Yepoyan, [email protected]
Email: [email protected]