Classroom crisis: Avert a ‘generational catastrophe’, urges UN chief

NEW YORK — The world is at risk of suffering “a generational catastrophe” as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the education of students globally, the UN chief said on Thursday.

In a video message to the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Global Education Meeting (GEM), Secretary-General António Guterres reminded delegates that the pandemic had had a “disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable and marginalized children and youth”.

“The progress we have made, especially for girls and young women, is under threat”, he said. “We now need to support the learning recovery in low and middle-income countries — and to factor education into every stimulus package”.

To successfully avert the crisis, Guterres upheld the importance of recognizing education as “a common global good”, with teachers, safe schools, digital technologies, and those at greatest risk, in need of far greater investment.

“Financing and political will are critical”, he stressed.

Deputy UN chief Amina Mohammed observed that the COVID-19 pandemic had clearly highlighted “the vital linkages between education, nutrition, gender equality, health and social protection”.

She noted education systems had managed to undergo “rapid transformation” and pointed to the work of Governments in minimizing the educational impact on students, the flexibility and creativity of teachers and how caregivers have taken on “frontline roles” to support children’s education.

“Learners persevered and adapted to new realities”, continued Mohammed, as UN agencies have worked together with external partners, including through the Global Education Coalition, to deploy support and guidance to Governments.

Since the pandemic hit, at least one-third of the world’s students have been deprived of any form of learning; close to half a billion pupils are still affected by school closures; and the most marginalized, including at least 11 million girls, are at high risk of never returning to school, according to the deputy UN chief. — UN news