Interview: With millions falling behind, how can we close the growing education gap? |
Mr Jenkins spoke to UN News’ Conor Lennon ahead of this year’s International Day of Education, celebrated on January 24. He began by outlining some of the effects of the pandemic on students around the world.
Robert Jenkins: It is important to remember that we still have a crisis in terms of the extent of school closures and partial school closures. More than 635 million students currently remain affected by full or partial school closures, so we are by no means out of this, in terms of the conversation about the importance of reopening schools.
We are very concerned, as more and more data emerges, about the disproportionate impact school closures have had, in terms of learning loss, on marginalized children.
Before the pandemic, 53% of 10-year-olds living in low- and middle-income countries were not reading enough or proficiently and did not meet basic minimum standards in literacy and numeracy. It is estimated that this goes up to 70 percent.
That’s 70% of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand simple text., and children living in countries with poor learning outcomes before the pandemic also tended to have their schools closed the longest.
The marginalized also had less access to remote learning, as they were either less likely to live in an area where remote learning was offered or did not have access to a device, radio or cellphone. television.
© UNICEF/Srikanth Kolari
UN News: What do you say to parents and teachers concerned that, with children less likely than adults to be vaccinated, schools are a breeding ground for COVID-19?
Robert Jenkins: School closures have a profound impact on children. As I mentioned, there is learning loss, but also in other ways, in terms of psychosocial, health, physical and nutritional needs. They no longer have access to midday meals or other aid they received at school.
Evidence so far indicates that in-person schooling does not appear to be the primary driver of community transmission of COVID-19, and risk mitigation measures in schools have proven to be very effective.
Good initiatives include improving ventilation, encouraging physical separation, social distancing, wearing a mask in certain settings, and washing hands. Risk mitigation measures are working and, in many cases, show that schools are indeed the safest places for children.
What is essential is commitment. There must be effective communication with parents. There must be dialogue and evidence must be shared. Teachers must receive support to be able to effectively reopen and support children, and apply effective risk mitigation measures in schools
© UNICEF/Frank Dejongh
UN News: Many of the issues you mentioned, such as the marginalization of disadvantaged children and inequalities, existed before the pandemic, which has exacerbated many of these issues. Some education experts believe this crisis could be an opportunity to transform the global education system for the better. Do you think that’s realistic?
Robert Jenkins: I have seen encouraging examples of countries introducing innovations, which are being introduced into the school system, and Sierra Leone is a great example. But there are many other examples of countries adopting blended learning and digital learning approaches, with support for marginalized children during school closures.
Unfortunately, these examples of large-scale transformation and change that were expected before the crisis are not happening everywhere, and it would be a huge missed opportunity if schools reopen and we go back to exactly where we were two years ago, but with children now even further behind.
UN News: With all of this in mind. What is your message to governments and ministers of health on this year’s International Day of Education?
Robert Jenkins: The importance of prioritizing the reopening of schools, so that marginalized children can resume their learning journey. Let’s use this moment to transform and resolve long-standing education issues.