Nearly 1.6 billion learners across the world have been affected by the largest disruption of education systems in history caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated education disparities, according to UN Secretary-General’s policy brief on "Education during COVID-19 and Beyond" released on Tuesday.
Learning losses due to prolonged school closures threaten to erase progress made in recent decades, not least for girls and young women.
Describing education as “the key to personal development and the future of societies”, UN chief António Guterres issued recommendations to get children back in the classroom in a policy brief launched alongside a new global campaign called Save our Future.
“As the world faces unsustainable levels of inequality, we need education – the great equalizer – more than ever,” he said in a video message.
“We must take bold steps now, to create inclusive, resilient, quality education systems fit for the future.”
Some 23.8 million additional children and youth (from pre-primary to tertiary) could drop out or not have access to school next year due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone, the UN document noted.
Education is a fundamental human right and it is the bedrock of just, equal and inclusive societies and a main driver of sustainable development.
To prevent a pre-existing learning crisis from turning into a learning catastrophe, governments and the international community must step up, the policy brief said.
A ten-year-old boy studies with the help of his mother at home in the Mathare Informal Settlement in Nairobi, Kenya
Once national or local outbreaks of the virus are under control, governments must look to reopen schools safely, listening to the voices of key stakeholders and coordinating with relevant actors, including the health community.
The gap in education financing globally could increase by 30 percent because of the crisis.
The policy brief said governments need to protect education financing in national budgets, in international development assistance and through greater cooperation on debt.
To cope better with future crises, governments should strengthen the resilience of education systems by placing a strong focus on equity and inclusion; and on reinforce capacities for risk management.
Failure to do so poses major risks to international peace and stability, it said.
The transformation of education systems has been stimulated and reinforced in many countries during the pandemic: innovative solutions for learning and teaching continuity have flourished.
Responses have also highlighted major divides, beginning with the digital one.
It is time to reimagine education and accelerate positive change, and ensure that education systems are more flexible, equitable, and inclusive, said the policy brief.
250m school-age children out of school
To spur global momentum around the education emergency and the need to protect and reimagine education in a post-COVID-19 world, a coalition of global organisations is joining forces to launch the ‘SaveOurFuture’ campaign.
This campaign will amplify the voices of children and young people and urge governments worldwide to recognise the investment in education as critical to COVID-19 recovery, the policy brief reads.
In mid-July, schools were closed in more than 160 countries, affecting over 1 billion students. At least 40 million children worldwide have missed out on education in their critical pre-school year.
And parents, especially women, have been forced to assume heavy care burdens in the home.
Despite the delivery of lessons by radio, television and online, and the best efforts of teachers and parents, many students remain out of reach.
Learners with disabilities, those in minority or disadvantaged communities, displaced and refugee students and those in remote areas are at highest risk of being left behind.
And even for those who can access distance learning, success depends on their living conditions, including the fair distribution of domestic duties.
More than 250 million school-age children were out of school.
Earlier on Monday, a press briefing on this policy brief was held.
Stefania Giannini, the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education and Suzanne Grant Lewis, director of UNESCO’s Internation al Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) briefed the media in the virtual briefing.
Globally, the number of officially confirmed coronavirus cases has shot past 18 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
The total number of cases stood at 18,109,901 and the fatalities rose to 690,055 as of Monday evening, data compiled by JHU’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) showed.
Besides, 1,468,689 people recovered from virus infection globally.
The US has topped the list of countries with most confirmed cases (4,668,406) as its fatalities reached 154,861, according to JHU.
Besides, Brazil came in the second place with 2,733,677 infections and 94,104 deaths.
India currently ranks third in terms of confirmed coronavirus cases (1,803,695) followed by Russia (854,641), South Africa (511,485), Mexico (439,046) and Peru (428,850).
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has been placed 16th in this list of countries with most officially confirmed coronavirus cases.
Coronavirus situation in Bangladesh
The death tally from coronavirus in Bangladesh reached 3,184 on Monday as 30 more patients died of the virus in the last 24 hours, the health authorities announced at a regular online briefing.
But the number of tests came down drastically with only 4,249 samples being tested during this period. But more than one in four tests turned out to be positive – 1,356 in total.
The daily infection rate reached an unprecedented 31.9 percent which is highest in the last two months.
Currently, Bangladesh’s officially confirmed cases stands at 2,42,102.
Prof Dr Nasima Sultana of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), who has been delivering the numbers at an online briefing, said 1,066 patients have made full recovery from Covid-19, raising the total recoveries to 1,37,905.
Nearly 57 percent have recovered from the disease in Bangladesh, she said.
UN has urged communities everywhere to “support breastfeeding for a healthier planet” as the World Breastfeeding Week is underway beginning Saturday.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued a joint call for governments to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counselling - a critical component of breastfeeding support.
The UN has long advocated the benefits of breastfeeding, which delivers health, nutritional and emotional benefits to both children and mothers.
It also helps foster a sustainable food system, according to UN News.
“While breastfeeding is a natural process, it is not always easy”, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in their joint statement.
“Mothers need support – both to get started and to sustain breastfeeding.”
The two top officials noted that skilled counselling services can ensure mothers and families receive this support, along with the information, advice, and reassurance they need to nourish their babies in the best way.
“Breastfeeding counselling can help mothers to build confidence while respecting their individual circumstances and choices”, they added.
“Counselling can empower women to overcome challenges and prevent feeding and care practices that may interfere with optimal breastfeeding, such as the provision of unnecessary liquids, foods, and breastmilk substitutes to infants and young children.”
Improving access to skilled counselling can also extend the duration of breastfeeding and promote exclusive breastfeeding, with benefits for babies, families and economies, they said.
820,000 lives potentially saved
“Indeed, analysis indicates that increasing rates of exclusive breastfeeding could save the lives of 820,000 children every year, generating $302 billion in additional income.”
A variety of different healthcare professionals can provide the expert help needed, such as lactation counsellors and peer support providers - in a variety of clinical settings, or through home visits or community programmes, in person or remotely.
Innovate during COVID crisis
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important to find innovative solutions to ensure that access to these essential services is not disrupted and that families continue to receive the breastfeeding counselling they need.
During the pandemic, UNICEF and WHO, in line with the policy actions advocated by the UNICEF-WHO-led Global Breastfeeding Collective, are calling on governments to invest to make skilled breastfeeding counselling available to every woman.
Ensuring availability of skilled breastfeeding counselling to every woman will require increased financing for breastfeeding programmes and improved monitoring and implementation of policies, programmes and services, according to the statement shared by the WHO.
The governments are urged to train health care workers, including midwives and nurses, to deliver skilled breastfeeding counselling to mothers and families.
They urged the governments to ensure that counselling is made available as part of routine health and nutrition services that are easily accessible.
The governments are requested to partner and collaborate with civil society and health professional associations, building strong collaborative systems for provision of appropriate counselling.
The WHO and UNICEF urged the governments to protect health care workers from the influence of the baby food industry.
Fore and Tedros, concluded their message with a clear call for united action, on behalf of mothers and babies: “Together, through commitment, concerted action and collaboration, we can ensure that every mother has access to skilled breastfeeding counselling, empowering her to give her baby the best possible start in life.”
Thousands of people took to the streets of central Jerusalem and staged demonstrations demanding resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday.
The demonstration in central Jerusalem, along with smaller gatherings in Tel Aviv, near Netanyahu's beach house in central Israel and at dozens of busy intersections nationwide, was one of the largest turnouts in weeks of protests, reports AP.
Throughout the summer, thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets, calling for Netanyahu to resign, protesting his handling of the country's coronavirus crisis and saying he should not remain in office while on trial for corruption charges.
Though Netanyahu has tried to play down the protests, the twice-a-week gatherings show no signs of slowing.
Israeli media estimated at least 10,000 people demonstrated near the official residence in central Jerusalem. Late Saturday, thousands marched through the streets in a noisy but orderly rally. Demonstrators hoisted Israeli flags and blew loud horns as they marched. Many held posters that said "Crime Minister" and "Bibi Go Home" or accused Netanyahu of being out of touch with the public.
Hundreds of people remained in the area well after midnight, ignoring calls by police to leave. Anti-riot forces moved into the area and began clearing out people. As of 2 a.m., most of the remaining people appeared to be leaving peacefully, but police were seen dragging some activists away.
The rallies against Netanyahu are the largest Israel has seen since 2011 protests over the country's high cost of living.
Netanyahu has dismissed the demonstrators as "leftists" and "anarchists." Late on Saturday, his Likud Party issued a statement that accused Israel's two private TV stations of giving "free and endless publicity" to the protesters and exaggerating the importance of the gatherings.
While the demonstrations have largely been peaceful, there have been signs of violence in recent days. Some protesters have clashed with police, accusing them of using excessive force, while small gangs of Netanyahu supporters affiliated with a far-right group have assaulted demonstrators. Netanyahu has claimed demonstrators are inciting violence against him.
Israeli police have arrested some 20 far-right activists in recent days and police said they were on high alert for violence at the demonstrations. Several arrests of Netanyahu supporters were reported Saturday, including a man who got out of his car in the northern city of Haifa and threw a stone toward a crowd of protesters. Police said a 63-year-old woman was slightly hurt.
The demonstrations are organized by a loose-knit network of activist groups. Some object to Netanyahu remaining in office while he is on trial. He has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals. Many carry black flags, the name of the grassroots movement.
Many of the demonstrators, including many young unemployed Israelis, accuse Netanyau of mishandling the coronavirus crisis and the economic damage it has caused.
After moving quickly to contain the virus last spring, many believe Israel reopened its economy too quickly, leading to a surge in cases. The country is now coping with record levels of coronavirus, while unemployment has surged to over 20 percent.
Expressing “appreciation for WHO and partners’ COVID-19 pandemic response efforts”, the emergency committee convened by the UN health agency’s chief, made it clear that there is not yet an end in sight to the public health crisis that has so far infected more than 17 million and killed over 650,000 people.
The committee convened by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR), held its fourth meeting on 31 July.
Sustained effort needed
In its statement following the meeting, published on Saturday, it highlighted the “anticipated lengthy duration” of the pandemic, noting “the importance of sustained community, national, regional, and global response efforts.”
After a full discussion and review of the evidence, the Committee “unanimously agreed” the outbreak still constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Tedros accepted the advice of the Committee.
The Director-General declared a PHEIC - WHO’s highest level of alarm - on 30 January, at a time when there were fewer than 100 cases in total, and no deaths outside China.
‘Once-in-a-century health crisis’
“The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come", Tedros told the Committee in his opening remarks on Friday.
"Many countries that believed they were past the worst are now grappling with new outbreaks. Some that were less affected in the earliest weeks are now seeing escalating numbers of cases and deaths. And some that had large outbreaks have brought them under control."
The Committee made a range of recommendations to both WHO and Member States.
It advised the agency to continue to mobilize global and regional multilateral organizations and partners for COVID-19 preparedness and response and to support Member States in maintaining health services, while also accelerating the research and eventual access to diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.
Fair accessIt advised countries to support these research efforts, including through funding, and to join in efforts to allow equitable allocation of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines by engaging in the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, an unprecedented global collaboration between countries, philanthropists and business.
The committee also advised countries to strengthen public health policies to identify cases, and improve speedy contact tracing, “including in low-resource, vulnerable, or high-risk settings and to maintain essential health services with sufficient funding, supplies, and human resources.”
Countries were also advised the committee to implement proportionate measures and advice on travel, based on risk assessments, and to review these measures regularly.
Covid-19 situation in Bangladesh
The health authorities in Bangladesh reported 21 new deaths from coronavirus and 2,199 new cases on Saturday .
The number of deaths reported was the lowest in over two months (since May 27). Bangladesh’s overall death toll now stands at 3,132.
In the last 24 hours, labs tested 8,802 samples and 24.9 percent turned out positive (daily infection rate or positivity rate). It was the highest since July 15, when 3,533 samples out of 14,002 tested positive for Covid-19, giving a positivity rate of 25.2.
The overall infection rate in Bangladesh now stands at 20.2 percent, with 239,860 positive cases out of close to 1.2 million tests.
The number of tests continued to decline on the first day of August, as it did throughout July, even though the proportion of tests coming back positive, known as the daily infection rate or positivity rate, continues to rise.