UNICEF calls for schools to open in Eastern & Southern Africa

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Tuesday, 22 September 2020 – UNICEF has called on governments, parents and teachers across Eastern and Southern Africa to urgently and safely re-open schools, as the costs of continued school closures escalate across Eastern and Southern Africa.

While there are encouraging reports that 13 out of 21 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have returned children to classrooms, with an additional four having set return dates, countries such as Kenya – with a huge student population – are still to decide on whether they will reopen schools this year, compounding the threats which out-of-school children face.

Across this region, of the nearly 65 million children remaining out of school, around one in two are not reached by any form of learning. Meanwhile, violence has spiked. Across the region, millions of children continue to miss what was their one nutritious meal of the day.

“Seven months into the pandemic, we must be very clear about the gravity of this crisis: we are at risk of losing a generation” said Mohamed Malick Fall, Regional Director for UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa. “We see lost learning, rising violence, rising child labour, forced child marriages, teen pregnancies and diminished nutrition. A generation of children is at risk, and at the most critical time in our continent’s history.

“We are at a time of unprecedented population growth,” continued Fall. “If this expanded workforce can receive quality learning at school, the potential for increased production could sustain an economic boom to drastically reduce poverty in Africa – where currently 70 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s people live on less than US$ 2/day.”

It can be done. Safely re-opening schools by the beginning of October this year will give scholars a full term and vastly reduce learning losses. A third term for learners presents the last chance to recoup learning losses for 2020 and avert the dangers of permanent school drop-outs. Re-opening will also reduce losses incurred by both parents and governments.

UNICEF’s call to safely re-open schools follows scientific evidence which shows children are not super spreaders of Covid19, and are the least affected by Covid19 in the region, with a mere 2.5 per cent of Covid19 cases attributed to children of school going age (5-18years, WHO).

“Much effort was spent at the start of this pandemic reminding all of the dangers of Covid19 and necessary precautions,” said Mr Fall. “Things have evolved – we now know greater dangers for children lie by being outside the classroom. That message needs to be heard.”

Critically, there is growing regional and global practice showing that safe school re-opening can be done with political will and community commitment. Most countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have seen the rationale of a phased return to schools, starting with exam classes in countries such as Botswana, Eritrea, Eswatini, Madagascar, Somalia, Zambia, and recently Malawi and Zimbabwe. Bigger countries with larger Covid19 caseloads and higher student populations – such as South Africa – have reopened schools for all grades since end of August.

“UNICEF is here to support countries, and share working practices on safely re-opening schools; examples that can be applied to our context,” said Mr Fall.

Unicef UK’s Save Generation Covid appeal is supporting children and families impacted by Coronavirus across the world. Visit unicef.uk/donate-generationcovid to donate and help #GenerationCovid.


Notes to editors: 

  • The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest and most urgent global crisis children have faced since World War Two.
  • Children’s lives are being upended. Their support systems ripped away, their borders closed, their educations lost, their food supply cut off.
  • An additional 6,000 children around the world could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as the coronavirus pandemic weakens health systems and disrupts routine services like vaccinations. That’s one every 15 seconds.
  • UNICEF’s “Save Generation Covid” appeal is the largest ever for children in our 73-year history, and we urgently need funds for lifesaving support and services to ensure that children survive this crisis – and thrive beyond it.
  • Together we can Save Generation Covid. Visit unicef.uk/donate-generationcovid to donate and help save #generationcovid. 

For more information, please contact:

Alexandra Murdoch, 0207 375 6179, AlexandraM@unicef.org.uk

Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030, media@unicef.org.uk

 Download multimedia content:

Audio PSA from Mohamed Malick Fall, Regional Director for UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa: https://soundcloud.com/user-863246777/unicef-psa-on-schools-closures-due-to-covid-19


Video of children on why they miss school: https://weshare.unicef.org/CS.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ITEMID=2AM408PVYSG3 

Animation on child protection issues linked to school closures: https://weshare.unicef.org/archive/Child-Protection—COVID19-2AM408P6DPYG.html


UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK.

For more information please visit unicef.org.uk

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