Hundreds of millions of children in South Asia are suffering from their schools being closed due to the coronavirus, but they lack online devices and connections for distance learning, UNICEF said Thursday.
Authorities should prioritize the safe reopening of schools because even before the pandemic, nearly 60% of children in the densely populated region were unable to read and understand simple text by the age of 10, said said the United Nations Children’s Agency.
“School closures in South Asia have forced hundreds of millions of children and their teachers to switch to distance learning in a region where connectivity and devices are not affordable,” said George Laryea-Adjei , UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. “Even when a family has access to technology, children are not always able to access it. As a result, children have suffered huge setbacks in their learning journey.
The repeated school closures since last year have affected 434 million children in South Asia and a significant proportion of them are learning much less than pre-pandemic levels, UNICEF said in a report. report based on research in India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. .
In India, 80% of children aged 14-18 reported lower learning levels than when they were physically in school. In Sri Lanka, 69% of parents of primary school students reported that their children learned less or much less. In Pakistan, 23% of young children did not have access to any device for distance learning. In India, 42% of children aged 6 to 13 reported no distance learning during school closings.
“The safe reopening of schools should be seen as a top priority for all governments,” said George Laryea-Adjei.
Indian epidemiologists and social scientists have called on authorities to reopen classes for all children, saying the benefits outweigh the risks, especially as poor and rural children do not get an education in line.
South Asia, with nearly 2 billion people, has reported more than 37 million COVID-19 infections and more than 523,000 deaths.