Of all the questions posed by the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most important is how exactly schools — both primary and secondary schools, as well as institutions of higher education — reopen safely.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the planet, there was a lot the world did not know about its impact on children,” wrote Henrietta Fore, the director of The United Nations Children’s Fund, also known as UNICEF, in a June 19 opinion piece on cnn.com. “Could they get sick? Could they transmit the virus? Were schools safe? We have since learned quite a bit. We have learned that children are not the main drivers of the epidemic across countries.”
Though Fore said we can be certain about children’s safety in terms of COVID-19, she also said that we “know there can be severe negative effects on children — from deterioration of mental and physical health to lack of sufficient food in some cases — when they are out of school.”
Fore said one of the most important questions to ask is why so many schools around the world are still closed.
“Strict measures were taken to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve,” she wrote for CNN. “Often, schools were among the first places to close, sometimes even before shopping malls, movie theaters and restaurants. By early April, nation-wide lockdowns in 194 countries left 1.6 billion children out of school, approximately 90% of the world’s students. As (June 19), two months on, while many countries begin to ease lockdowns for non-essential services, over 1 billion children in 144 countries are still not in their classrooms.”
At 10:45 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Aug. 27, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Fore will deliver a lecture titled, “How to Help Children Reach Their Full Potential,” bringing together her expertise with the international issues that plague children and her experience as a leader and speaker. Her lecture is part of the Week Nine Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “The Future We Want, The World We Need: Collective Action for Tomorrow’s Challenges,” a week in partnership with the U.N. Foundation.
“We’re honored to have Henrietta Fore provide critical insight on the challenges facing children around the world, particularly during COVID-19, and how our prioritizing children is critical as we address the world’s most pressing problems, now and into the future,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and the Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.
A subset of children who are particularly vulnerable are young girls, Fore wrote, in part because when they remain out of school they’re at high risk for sexual exploitation and abuse.
“During the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak, for example, pregnancy rates among teenagers in Sierra Leone doubled and many girls were unable to continue their education when schools reopened,” she wrote. “And we cannot forget the millions of children, particularly those living in rural areas, from poorer families or with special needs, who rely on schools as a lifeline to meals, support in times of distress, health screenings and therapeutic services.”
Fore said that there’s still much to be done to improve health safety in schools, especially in poorer communities.
“For example, handwashing stations, disinfection and physical distancing,” she wrote. “However, the evidence is clear: Investment in safety protocols yields high returns. It may never be business-as-usual again. We need safer and better schools. We need innovative approaches to learning. We need better access to technology for every child to bridge the digital divide. But it’s time to put children back on the learning track. It’s time to reopen schools.”
This program is made possible by Week Nine “Program Sponsor” Erie Insurance and The Foglesong Family Lectureship Fund.