By UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore
As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues its spread all over the world, we urge governments to do everything in their power to keep it from further disrupting children’s education.
To avert a learning catastrophe and put children back on the learning track, UNICEF recommends the following:
Keep schools open. An estimated 616 million children are currently affected by full or partial school closures. We know that mitigation measures help keep schools open. We also know that investments in digital connectivity can help us make sure that no child is left behind. We need bold action to enable every child to return to school. This includes providing comprehensive support with a particular focus on marginalized children in each community, such as catch-up classes, mental health and nutrition support, protection and other key services.
Vaccinate teachers and school staff immediately. Teachers and school personnel should be fully supported and prioritized to receive COVID-19 vaccines, once frontline health personnel and high-risk populations are vaccinated.
UNICEF supports the vaccination of children once vaccines are available to them and once priority groups are fully protected. Do not make vaccination a pre-requisite for in-person schooling. Making access to in-person schooling contingent on COVID-19 vaccination risks denying children access to education and increasing inequalities. Consistent with WHO recommendations, UNICEF recommends keeping schools open and ensuring that countries’ COVID-19 control strategies facilitate children’s participation in education and other aspects of social life, even without vaccinating children and adolescents.
In crisis conditions there are always difficult decisions that force difficult trade-offs, and we recognize the unprecedented challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic is creating for school systems worldwide. But the stakes are too high. We must collectively do everything we can to keep children in school.