Keeping Children And Schools Safe Protects Us All

March 24, 2020 in News by RBN Staff

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An education is a child’s key to the future. UNICEF is working to make sure every student keeps learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Students from the UNICEF-supported Muong Khuong Boarding School in Lao Cai, Vietnam proudly show their clean hands after they've washed them with soap and clean water.

Students from the UNICEF-supported Muong Khuong Boarding School in Lao Cai, Vietnam proudly show their clean hands after they’ve washed them with soap and clean water.

© UNICEF/UNI310705/VIET HUNG

Since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak — now officially a pandemic — began in December, schools have closed nationwide in 105 countries, interrupting the lives and educations of more than 897 million children and youth. In the U.S. alone, at least 37.4 million children have been affected by school closures.

“While temporary school closures as a result of health and other crises are not new unfortunately, the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education,” Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said on March 4.

As communities take action to prevent further transmission, reduce the impacts of the outbreak and support control measures, keeping students safe and learning must remain a top priority.

School closures come at a high price

So far, there have been relatively few cases of COVID-19 reported among children. In an op/ed in the Los Angeles Times, Robert Jenkins, UNICEF’s chief of education, points out that, while public health officials may have good reason to close schools, there are serious consequences.

When a large number of schools were closed in West Africa between 2014 and 2016 during the Ebola crisis, families missed out on nutrition, disease prevention programs and access to water and sanitation, and sexual abuse and exploitation of children increased. UNICEF reopened schools, developing and implementing anti-Ebola measures such as daily temperature screenings and instruction on good hygiene practices, proving that even during a health crisis, children need not put their education on hold.

Student-members of the Health Brigade at the UNICEF-supported Dikolelayi Primary School in Kananga, Kasai-Occidental province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Student-members of the Health Brigade at the UNICEF-supported Dikolelayi Primary School in Kananga, Kasai-Occidental province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

© UNICEF/UN0271256/TREMEAU

Preventing the potential spread of COVID-19 in schools

To help keep children and schools safe during the coronavirus outbreak, UNICEF teamed up with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to create a guide containing checklists for school administrators, teachers and staff outlining sanitation and disinfection practices, and information on how parents can monitor children’s health and help them cope with stress.

Children going home after school in Kandahar, in the southern region of Afghanistan, wearing their UNICEF backpacks.

Children going home after school in Kandahar, in the southern region of Afghanistan.

© UNICEF/UNI309837/FRANK DEJONGH

Basic principles for staying safe in school

The guidance calls for:

  • Providing children with information about how to protect themselves
  • Promoting best handwashing and hygiene practices and providing hygiene supplies
  • Cleaning and disinfecting school buildings, especially water and sanitation facilities
  • Increasing airflow and ventilation in school buildings

Fighting the spread of stigma

UNICEF works in 144 countries around the world to provide children and adolescents with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive. As we work to protect children from harmful viruses, we must also protect them from stigma and abuse linked to COVID-19 fears. During disease outbreaks, it’s more important than ever to spread kindness and support one another.

Viruses are equal opportunity. They cannot target people from specific populations, ethnicities or racial backgrounds. Students and staff who may have been exposed to the virus should feel comfortable about coming forward to seek testing and treatment. Education settings should continue to be welcoming, respectful, inclusive and supportive environments to all.

Measures taken by schools can prevent the entry and spread of COVID-19 by students and staff who may have been exposed to the virus, while minimizing disruption, protecting students and staff from discrimination and offering children a powerful example of how people can come together for the common good in a time of crisis.

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