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UNICEF’s 'pandemic classroom urges governments to reopen schools

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UNICEF unveiled on Wednesday, a ‘Pandemic Classroom,’ a model classroom made up of 168 empty desks, each representing a million children worldwide whose schools have been closed for almost a year, due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

The move is to draw attention to the "profound impact" of keeping students out of school as the organisation calls on world leaders to reopen classrooms as soon as possible - within coronavirus-prevention guidelines.

"What we've learned from such prolonged school closures has a profound impact particularly on vulnerable and marginalised children," said Robert Jenkins, the Global Chief of Education for UNICEF.

"So we're calling for all governments to open schools now. 

"Schools should be the first to open during the reopening process, to take all actions to do so safely, to also provide comprehensive support as children reenter schools."

According to the latest data by UNESCO, more than 888 million children worldwide continue to face disruptions to their education due to full and partial school closures.

The most vulnerable children and those unable to access remote learning are at an increased risk of abandoning their education, and even being forced into child marriage or child labour.

"We have seen from previous pandemics like the Ebola crisis in West Africa, prolonged school closures increased significantly, for example, a significant increase in the percentage of teenage pregnancies and incidents of sexual-based violence," Jenkins said.

UNICEF’s Framework for Reopening Schools, issued jointly with UNESCO, UNHCR, WFP and the World Bank, offers practical advice for national and local authorities to recover children’s lost education while prioritising each student's unique needs.