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Remote learning out of reach for 1/3 of world's school children, UNICEF says

Along with education, schoolchildren are missing safety, friends and food in school environments, which have been replaced by anxiety, violence and teenage pregnancy, UNICEF said. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI
Along with education, schoolchildren are missing "safety, friends and food" in school environments, which have been replaced by "anxiety, violence and teenage pregnancy," UNICEF said. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

July 27 (UPI) -- Remote learning is out of reach for at least a third of the world's schoolchildren partly because many classrooms are closing, the United Nations Children's Fund said Tuesday.

The lack of access has left millions of children without education amid COVID-19 school closures, UNICEF spokesman James Elder told reporters at a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Elder pointed out that UNICEF estimates show that more than 80 million children have no remote learning access across East Asia and the Pacific alone.

Less than half of 1% of children have home Internet connectivity in Uganda and South Sudan, with schools there closed for 306 days and 231 days, respectively, he added.

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Along with education, children are missing "safety, friends and food" in school environments, which have been replaced by "anxiety, violence and teenage pregnancy," Elder said.

"Take Uganda: between March last year and this June, there was a more than 30% increase in pregnancy among 10-24-year-olds (who were seeking antenatal care) ... Child helplines have seen triple digit rises."

Elder emphasized that this problem has been around for a while.

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"Even with schools in the northern hemisphere closed for the summer, more than 600 children in countries not on academic break are still affected by school closures," he said. "In Asia and the Pacific: in nearly half the countries, schools have been closed for more than 200 days during the pandemic."

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Elder cited U.N. estimates that 40% of school-age children in eastern and southern Africa are currently out of school, with recent COVID-19 surges worsening the situation. In South Africa, he said, up to 500,000 have dropped out.

"And if that doesn't resonate with those in power, then consider a World Bank report that estimates a loss of $10 trillion dollars in earnings over time for this generation of students," Elder continued.

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UNICEF recommended five actions to deal with problem -- reopening schools as soon as possible, protecting education budgets, removing old barriers, fulfilling official development assistance and making equitable distribution of vaccines since the COVAX program is undersupplied.

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