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Closing Schools Should Be Last Resort Even If There Are New COVID Waves, Says World Bank Official

New Delhi: There is no justification to keep schools closed now even if new waves of COVID-19 pandemic keep hitting us, according to World Bank’s Global Education Director Jaime Saavedra.

Saavedra and his team have been tracking COVID’s impact on the education sector, and feel there is no evidence that reopening schools has caused a surge in coronavirus cases and that schools are not a “safe place.”

Schools in several countries have been shut for the better part of two years since the pandemic broke in March 2020. Some educational institutions were reopened towards the end of 2020 but were closed following the Delta-driven wave last year and again now after the Omicron variant led to a massive surge in India and several other countries.

“There is no relation between opening schools and spread of coronavirus. There is no evidence linking the two and there is no justification now to keep the schools closed. Even if there are new waves of COVID-19, closing schools should be the last resort,” Saavedra told PTI.

He asserted that it does not make sense to wait till children are vaccinated as there is “no science” behind that thinking.

The World Bank official opined that it doesn’t make sense to keep restaurants, bars and shopping malls open and shut down schools. “There is no excuse,” he stated.

 

Different simulations by the World Bank have shown that health risks for children if schools are opened are low while the cost of closure is extremely high.

“During 2020, we were navigating in a sea of ignorance. We just didn’t know what was the best way of combating the pandemic and the immediate reaction of most countries in the world was let’s close schools. Time has passed since then and with evidence coming in from late 2020 and 2021, we have had several waves and there are several countries which have opened schools,” Saavedra said.

He observed that many counties have experienced COVID waves when schools were closed, which showed that there has been no role of schools in some of the spikes.

Saavedra remarked that pandemic-induced school closures have impacted India “more severely than previously thought” and that the learning poverty is likely to increase much more than anticipated.

The learning poverty — unable to read and understand a simple text by the age of 10 — in India is likely to increase from 55% to 70% due to leaning loss and out-of-school children, he remarked.

“In countries like India where the inequalities in education were already prevalent before the pandemic and the learning poverty levels were already gigantic, there is a lot at stake. Nearly two years later, schools remain closed for millions of children, and others may never return to school.

“The loss of learning that many children are experiencing is morally unacceptable. And the potential increase of learning poverty might have a devastating impact on future productivity, earnings, and well-being for this generation of children and youth, their families, and the world’s economies,” he said.