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New Global Tracker to Measure Pandemic’s Impact on Education Worldwide

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education for 1.6 billion children worldwide over the past year. To help measure the ongoing global response, Johns Hopkins University, the World Bank, and UNICEF have partnered to create a COVID-19 – Global Education Recovery Tracker.

Launched today, the tool assists countries’ decision-making by tracking reopening and recovery planning efforts in more than 200 countries and territories.

The effort captures and showcases information across four key areas:

  • Status of schooling
  • Modalities of learning (remote, in-person or hybrid)
  • Availability of remedial educational support
  • Status of vaccine availability for teachers

The Global Education Recovery Tracker seeks to build upon Johns Hopkins University’s pivotal work in gathering quality data on COVID-19 cases, testing, and vaccinations, along with the strategic roles that the World Bank and UNICEF play in operational and policy support to countries during the pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic Johns Hopkins has demonstrated the vital role for universities in providing accurate, evidence-based data and information for the world,” said Johns Hopkins Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Sunil Kumar. “We hope the work of this partnership will build understanding of how COVID-19 continues to affect students everywhere.”

Data through early March 2021 show that 51 countries have fully returned to in-person education. In more than 90 countries, students are being instructed through multiple modalities, with some schools open, others closed, and many offering hybrid learning options.

Regionally, there are emerging indications of shifts in learning modalities. Remote learning continues to dominate in the Middle East and North Africa where schools were largely closed in recent weeks. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, most students are physically attending school. In the East Asia and Pacific region, in-person education has mostly resumed, with stringent social distancing measures. The regions of South Asia, Central Asia, and Europe are mainly relying on hybrid education where the infrastructure allows. Across Latin America, countries are using mixed approaches that include remote, hybrid, and in-person education. However, the majority of schools remain partially or fully closed to in-person classes with remote education as the most used modality.

“The world was facing a learning crisis before COVID-19,” said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education. “The learning poverty rate – the proportion of 10-year-olds unable to read a short, age-appropriate text – was 53% in low- and middle-income countries prior to COVID-19, compared to only 9% for high-income countries. A year into the pandemic, continued disruptions to schooling, shifts in learning modalities, and concerns for students’ well-being are ever greater, and this learning crisis is getting worse. COVID-19 related school closures are likely to increase learning poverty to as much as 63%.”

Saavedra emphasized the importance of this Tracker, “In many countries, students and teachers need urgent supplemental support. The return to school requires accelerated, remedial, and hybrid learning, as well as other interventions. Collecting and monitoring this data on what countries are doing is critically important to help us understand the magnitude of what support is needed as we go forward, learning from the major trends observed among countries.”  

In addition to tracking the operational status of schools, the Tracker will also monitor how students are being supported. This includes changes to the school year schedule, tutoring, and remediation, especially for the primary school grades. These interventions will be a critical component of the education recovery process after a year that has affected the learning and well-being of 95% of school children across the globe.

In countries where the COVID-19 vaccine is available, the tool is tracking whether teachers are eligible as a priority group. As of early March, teachers are largely not being immunized as a priority group in low- and low-middle-income countries. Of the 130 countries where vaccine information was available, more than two-thirds are not currently vaccinating teachers as a priority group.

“Even as vaccines are beginning to rollout worldwide, for hundreds of millions of the world’s schoolchildren, the consequences of this pandemic are far from over,” said UNICEF Chief of Education Robert Jenkins. “We must prioritize the reopening of schools, including prioritizing teachers to receive COVID-19 vaccines once frontline health personnel and high-risk populations are vaccinated. While such decisions ultimately rest with governments making difficult tradeoffs, we must do everything in our power to safeguard the future of the next generation. And this begins by safeguarding those responsible for opening that future up for them.”

The Tracker is intended to offer evidence that informs policy makers and researchers working on COVID-19 responses.  The tool is built to have the flexibility to incorporate emerging issues while offering a time trend of actions in the past months.

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Human Rights

Migrants left stranded and without assistance by COVID-19 lockdowns

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At least 30,000 migrants are stranded at borders in West Africa according to the UN. IOM/Monica Chiriac

Travel restrictions during the COVID pandemic have been particularly hard on refugees and migrants who move out of necessity, stranding millions from home, the UN migration agency, IOM, said on Thursday. 

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the first year of the pandemic saw more than 111,000 travel restrictions and border closures around the world at their peak in December.  

These measures “have thwarted many people’s ability to pursue migration as a tool to escape conflict, economic collapse, environmental disaster and other crises”, IOM maintained. 

In mid-July, nearly three million people were stranded, sometimes without access to consular assistance, nor the means to meet their basic needs.  

In Panama, the UN agency said that thousands were cut off in the jungle while attempting to travel north to the United States; in Lebanon, migrant workers were affected significantly by the August 2020 explosion in Beirut and the subsequent surge of COVID-19 cases. 

Business as usual 

Border closures also prevented displaced people from seeking refuge, IOM maintained, but not business travellers, who “have continued to move fairly freely”, including through agreed ‘green lanes’, such as the one between Singapore and Malaysia.  

By contrast, those who moved out of necessity – such as migrant workers and refugees – have had to absorb expensive quarantine and self-isolation costs, IOM said, noting that in the first half of 2020, asylum applications fell by one-third, compared to the same period a year earlier.  

Unequal restrictions 

As the COVID crisis continues, this distinction between those who can move and those who cannot, will likely become even more pronounced, IOM said, “between those with the resources and opportunities to move freely, and those whose movement is severely restricted by COVID-19-related or pre-existing travel and visa restrictions and limited resources”. 

This inequality is even more likely if travel is allowed for anyone who has been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19, or for those with access to digital health records – an impossibility for many migrants. 

Health risks 

Frontier lockdowns also reduced options for those living in overcrowded camps with high coronavirus infection rates in Bangladesh and Greece, IOM’s report indicated.  

In South America, meanwhile, many displaced Venezuelans in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Brazil, lost their livelihoods and some have sought to return home – including by enlisting the services of smugglers. 

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Human Rights

Clashes in Myanmar displace thousands

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As of the start of 2021, about one million people are in need of humanitarian aid and protection in Myanmar. Pictured here, an IDP camp in Myanmar’s Kachin province. (file photo) UNICEF/Minzayar Oo

Clashes between the Myanmar security forces and regional armed groups, which have involved military airstrikes, have reportedly claimed the lives of at least 17 civilians in several parts of the country, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Wednesday. 

In a humanitarian update, issued on Tuesday, the Office also noted unconfirmed reports of several thousand people fleeing the hostilities in recent days in the Kayin and Bago regions, in central Myanmar, near Yangon. A medical clinic is also reported to have been damaged in gunfire in a township in Mon state, also in the central part of the country. 

An estimated 7,100 civilians are now internally displaced in the two regions due to indiscriminative attacks by the Myanmar Armed Forces (MAF), and the Karen National Union (KNU), as well as growing insecurity since December 2020, according to the update. 

UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] is engaging with partners on the ground to explore possibilities to deliver critical humanitarian assistance and support to the displaced. A further 3,848 people in Kayin State have crossed the border to Thailand since 27 March, due to fears of further hostilities in the area”, OCHA said. 

The majority are believed to have returned to Myanmar with Thai authorities saying that 1,167  remain in Thailand as of 1 April, the Office added. 

‘Deep concern’ over continued impact of the crisis 

Meanwhile, the wider political crisis across Myanmar continues to hit life hard across the southeast Asian nation. 

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) has received credible reports of at least 568 women, children and men, have been killed since the military coup on 1 February, though there are fears that total is likely much higher. 

Concerns have also been raised over the impact on Myanmar’s health and education systems, as well as the long-term effects of the violence on children

The longer the current situation of widespread violence continuous, the more it will contribute to a continuous state of distress and toxic stress for children, which can have a lifelong impact on their mental and physical health, senior UN officials warned last week. 

Since 1 February, there have been at least 28 attacks against hospitals and health personnel and seven attacks against schools and school personnel, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters at a press briefing at the UN Headquarters, in New York, on Tuesday. 

“Attacks against health volunteers and against ambulances are preventing life-saving help from reaching civilians wounded by security forces,” he added. 

UN agencies have also reported reported sharp increases in food and fuel prices in many parts of Myanmar, on the back of supply chain and market disruptions. Humanitarians worry that if the price trends continue, they will “severely undermine” the ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to put enough food on the family table.

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Human Rights

Guterres: Use COVID-19 recovery to make inclusion ‘a reality’

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Building a more inclusive and accessible world that recognizes the contributions of all people, including persons with disabilities must be a “key goal” as countries work to recover from COVID-19 pandemic, United Nations Secretary-General said on Friday, commemorating World Autism Awareness Day. 

“The crisis has created new obstacles and challenges. But efforts to reignite the global economy offer an opportunity to reimagine the workplace to make diversity, inclusion and equity a reality”, Secretary-General António Guterres said

“Recovery is also a chance to rethink our systems of education and training to ensure that persons with autism are afforded opportunities for realizing their potential”, he added. 

Breaking ‘old habits’ crucial 

Mr. Guterres also emphasized that breaking old habits will be crucial. For persons with autism, he added, access to decent work on an equal basis requires creating an enabling environment, along with reasonable accommodations. 

“To truly leave no one behind in pursuit of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, we must realize the rights of all persons with disabilities, including persons with autism, ensuring their full participation in social, cultural and economic life”, he said. 

“Let us work together with all persons with disabilities and their representative organizations to find innovative solutions to recover better and build a better world for all.” 

Inequalities worsened by COVID-19

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), one in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD begins in childhood and tends to persist into adolescence and adulthood. 

Intervention during early childhood is important to promote the optimal development and well-being of persons with an ASD, WHO added, emphasizing the importance of monitoring of child development as part of routine maternal and child health care. 

While some individuals with ASD are able to live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support. Persons with an ASD are also often subject to stigma and discrimination, including unjust deprivation of health care, education, protection under law, and opportunities to engage and participate in their communities.

The World Day

The World Autism Awareness Day, to be commemorated annually on 2 April, was established in December 2007 by the UN General Assembly, which affirmed that “ensuring and promoting the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities is critical to achieving internationally agreed development goals”. 

The General Assembly also highlighted the importance of early diagnosis and appropriate research and interventions for the growth and development of the individual, and called for efforts to raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding children with autism. 

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