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UNESCO, UNICEF and WHO issue guidance to ensure schools are safe during COVID-19 pandemic


Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),  presented recommendations on measures to make sure that schools are safe despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in a joint online press conference on Tuesday.

The press conference was held to promote the three organizations’ updated joint recommendations on managing educational institutions for children up to the age of 18, Considerations for school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19. The new guidance was developed with input from the Technical Advisory Group of Experts on Educational Institutions and COVID-19, established by the three UN organizations in June 2020.

The guidance reaffirms the importance of schools for the social and intellectual development of children, for their physical and mental health and for the wellbeing of communities. The publication reflects the latest available scientific evidence about the transmission of COVID-19 and takes into consideration equity, resource implications and feasibility. It describes concrete measures to make schools safe. It recommends a risk-based approach taking into account the level and intensity of the transmission of COVID-19, before deciding to close establishments, which should be regarded as a measure of last resort.

“The decisions we make today will impact tomorrow’s world,” said the Director-General of UNESCO expressing worry about the consequences of leaving half the world’s school-age children out of the classroom because of the pandemic, as is still the case today. “The longer schools remain closed, the more damaging the consequences, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds,” warned Ms Azoulay, saying that 11 million girls may never return to school due to the COVID-19 induced interruption of their education.

“We need to rethink the way teaching is carried out during the pandemic to make sure no one is left behind,” said Ms Azoulay who argued that the ongoing crisis was also an opportunity to rethink the futures of education,” a comprehensive reflection UNESCO already launched in 2019 with the Futures of Education initiative.