COVID-19: Schools for more than 168 million children globally have been closed for almost a full year, says UNICEF | UNICEF Canada: For Every Child Skip to main content
Publication Date: 2021/03/03

NEW YORK/TORONTO, 3 March 2021 – Schools for more than 168 million children globally have been closed for almost an entire year due to COVID-19 lockdowns, according to new data released today. Furthermore, around 214 million children globally – or 1 in 7 – have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning. The longer schools close and the more in-person learning is disrupted, the more severe the impacts will be, said UNICEF Canada.

“Young people cannot afford another year of disruptions to their education,” said David Morley, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada. “Getting them back to school – and keeping them in school safely – must be a national and global priority. Children’s right to education and their futures are at risk. The longer some children stay out of the school, the greater the risk that they will never return even if schools are re-opened.”

School closures have devastating consequences for children’s learning and well-being. The most vulnerable children and those unable to access remote learning, such as refugee and displaced children and girls, are at an increased risk of never returning to the classroom, and even being forced into child marriage or child labour. According to latest data by UNESCO, more than 888 million children worldwide continue to face disruptions to their education due to full and partial school closures.

In addition to learning, the majority of schoolchildren worldwide also rely on their schools as a place where they can interact with their peers, seek support, access health and immunization services and a nutritious meal, and be protected from exploitation and violence. The longer schools remain closed, the longer children are cut off from these critical elements of childhood.

UNICEF Canada is calling on the Government of Canada to adopt an agenda for global COVID-19 recovery that includes children’s education, nutrition, health and protection, recognizing the critical role schools play in ensuring all of these aspects of children’s right to childhood.

To call attention to the education emergency and raise awareness about the need for governments to keep schools open, UNICEF today unveiled ‘Pandemic Classroom,’ a model classroom made up of 168 empty desks, each desk representing the million children living in countries where schools have been almost entirely closed – a solemn reminder of the classrooms in every corner of the world that remain empty.

“This classroom represents the millions of centers of learning that have sat empty—many for almost the entire year. Behind each empty chair hangs an empty backpack—a placeholder for a child’s deferred potential,” said Henrietta Fore UNICEF Executive Director. “We do not want shuttered doors and closed buildings to obscure the fact that our children’s futures are being put on indefinite pause. This installation is a message to governments: we must prioritize reopening schools, and we must prioritize reopening them better than they were before.”

To help protect the right to an education for every child, UNICEF is also calling for all governments to prioritize teachers and education workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after frontline health workers and other high-risk populations to help protect teachers from community transmission and keep schools open.

“Thousands of Canadians including young people are sending a clear message that providing safe, in-person schooling to children and young people — in Canada and around the world — must be a priority in the COVID-19 pandemic response,” said Morley.

UNICEF Canada is encouraging Canadians to protect teachers and the right to education by visiting unicef.ca/protect-teachers and signing their action.

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Notes to editors

UNICEF’s Framework for Reopening Schools, issued jointly with UNESCO, UNHCR, WFP and the World Bank, offers practical advice for national and local authorities.

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About UNICEF

UNICEF is the world’s leading humanitarian organization focused on children. We work in the most challenging areas to provide protection, healthcare and immunizations, education, safe water and sanitation and nutrition. As part of the United Nations, our unrivaled reach spans more than 190 countries and territories, ensuring we are on the ground to help the most disadvantaged children. While part of the UN system, UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations to finance our life-saving work. Please visit unicef.ca and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For further information:

Emily O’Connor Communications Manager EOconnor@unicef.ca 416 482-6552 x8866 / 647-500-4230
Marie-Claude Rouillard Communications Manager MRouillard@unicef.ca (514) 288-5134 ext 8425 / 514-232-4510