Unicef: It's not possible that shopping centers are open but not Schools
Latin America and the Caribbean is the region that has been without face-to-face school classes for the longest time due to the pandemic. In countries like Panama, Peru and Ecuador, Unicef demands the reopening of Schools.
"It is estimated that at least 3 million children in this region will never go back to school. The longer this closing period lasts, the less chance there will be that many children will return," Ruth Custode, Education Officer at Emergencies for Latin America and the Caribbean in Unicef.
From her office in Panama City , the specialist regrets that the resumption of classroom classes is not among the priorities of several countries on the continent.
It cannot be possible for restaurants to open, for shopping centers to open, for casinos to open, for cinemas to open and for schools not to open. I think the most important thing is that we have to prioritize the opening of schools, she said.
According to a UNICEF report, some countries in the region that continue to keep schools closed, and plan to reopen schools after having advanced their respective vaccination processes.
A Unicef report specifies that the world average closure of face-to-face classes due to the pandemic has been 95 days, while in Latin America it has been 158, when the school calendar is 190 days.
At the beginning of the pandemic, during 2020, the Ecuadorian specialist acknowledges that there was uncertainty and fear, with parents and teachers thinking that the school could be a place of contagion.
The situation continues in 2021 in countries with deteriorated school infrastructure and that do not have water.
However, she says, there are other regions with the same or worse problems that have opened their schools.
When we talk about evidence, there are already several studies that tell us that schools are not the main source of contagion. That cannot be a cause for schools to remain closed, she clarified.
It is time to act now, we cannot wait any longer, schools have to open. Using security protocols, masks, the recommendations are there, she said.
According to Custode, the school is not only a place to learn but also a place of protection.
At school, children often receive the only nutritious meal a day. If they do not go to school, they do not have access to health services, she explained.
"Children have had incredible levels of stress and anguish locked up for a year, cases of domestic violence have increased, the issue not only of mistreatment but also of sexual abuse and adolescent pregnancy. There have even been cases of suicide of young people, says Custode.
Also, there is the importance of socialization: Children need to be with their teachers and their peers. The longer this goes on, the more serious the consequences will be.
Children who have been able to sustain their virtual classes over time are those with better connectivity in urban areas. However, the most affected are those with disabilities, migrants, from remote areas or who are in vulnerable conditions. This inequity is going to get worse with the pandemic, Custode explained.
Not to mention the prolonged exposure to screens by children, which can cause vision, hearing, posture problems.
The differences are more profound, he said, because those who have possibilities have sought a way for their children to continue educating themselves, via homeschooling - hiring a teacher at home. But children from the poorest families do not have that option.
All these are patch solutions, because face-to-face education can never be replaced by distance education. We are training citizens of the future, how are we going to train those citizens if they do not have the opportunity to socialize, she said.