UN Official Warns Of ‘Generational Catastrophe’ If Schools Do Not Safely Reopen

Screenshot/Video/Twitter/United Nations

Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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The head of the United Nations warned in a video of a “generational catastrophe” if children do not return to school after months of closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres made the address in a Tuesday video, urging nations to “balance health risks against risks to children’s education” and prioritize returning children to school.

“We face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress and exacerbate entrenched inequalities,” he says in the video. 

The pandemic has led to the largest disruption in education “ever” according to Guterres, and in mid-July, schools were closed in more than 160 countries, affecting more than 1 billion students.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds will feel the impact from prolonged school closures most heavily, he adds. Nearly 40 million young children have also missed out on their education during their critical pre-school years. 

“Despite the delivery of lessons by radio, television and online, and the best efforts of teachers and agents, many students remain out of reach,” Guterres says.

He advises nations and their schools to reopen schools and learning institutions as soon as “local transmission of COVID-19 is under control,” and make the effort a top priority. 

Keeping children from school for extensive periods of time sets back gender equality, and undermines “decades of progress” on combating practices like child marriage, he adds. 

The message comes as students in the U.S. are in a limbo between schools reopening in the fall, or taking a different course of action, like continuing remote schooling. (RELATED: ‘The Obstacle Is An Emotional One:’ The Case For Reopening Our Schools)

The American Academy of Pediatrics urged school systems across the country to have students physically present in schools at the start of the upcoming academic year, later softening their guidance, saying schools must first “pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff” and “public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics.”

Many teachers’ unions have been reluctant to return, issuing demands that must be met before in-person learning is to resume.