Joint statement from UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Mohamed Fall, and UNESCO Regional Director for Eastern Africa, Prof. Hubert Gijzen
“Today we are appealing to the key actors responsible for the learning and futures of children living across the Eastern and Southern Africa region. Even during the pre-pandemic period, a vast majority of African children were experiencing a widespread learning crisis, with COVID-19 only serving to exacerbate the situation. With concerted vaccination and treatment efforts, we will defeat this pandemic. But the learning loss it has caused will certainly stay with us for much longer.
“To Governments, school gates must always be the last to close, and first to open. By now evidence in all our countries has shown that when schools close, children not only lose out on their learning progress, but also the safety of the school ground, interactions with friends, a route to healthcare, and, too often, their only nutritious meal of the day. Many governments across the region have made admirable efforts to keep schools safely open via strong Ministry of Health and Education collaboration and community partnerships.
“We equally urge governments to honour their commitments to the Paris Declaration to devote at least 4 per cent of GDP, or 15 per cent of public spending, to education. Furthermore, we ask you to increase social protection for the most vulnerable families as we know that when they are adequately supported, their children are more likely to return to school.
“To teachers, we commend you, as some of the most vital frontline workers in the COVID era. We call on your employers to allocate additional resources to cater for your learners, particularly the most vulnerable, and urge you to adjust your teaching methodsto the new context. We also strongly encourage you to be vaccinated against COVID-19 when available.
“To parents, we underscore that it is in the best interests of your children to be in school as safety measures are in place to protect them through frequent handwashing, mask wearing, adequate ventilation and social distancing.
“To the children, we urge you to take these precautions at all times with an understanding that they serve to protect you and the people you care about.
“To our private sector and development partners, we appeal to you to work with us to help overcome this crisis and to ensure that 2022 is the year children are supported to catch up on the learning loss they have suffered. We urge you to substantially increase funding for distance learning modalities, including digital technology and innovation, to protect against learning gaps and prepare students for future jobs in an increasingly digital world.
“We each must step up action urgently to play our part if we are to overcome this potential catastrophe for children and their education; the future of the continent depends on our joint ability to do so.”