While the Eastern Caribbean and its territories are being commended for their efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, UNICEF is recommending that schools be reopened.
UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Office, Dr. Aloys Kamuragiye, in his remarks during UNICEF’s Youth Activate Talks last evening, focused his contribution primarily on education and stressed that “as countries begin to ease lockdowns, they need to prioritize the reopening of their schools”.
He explained his rationale for the reopening of schools by stating: “When children are out of school for prolonged periods of time, their exposure to physical, emotional and sexual violence increases; their mental health deteriorates and they regress academically.
“For girls, especially those who are displaced or living in poor households, the risks are even higher. When girls remain out of school, they are at higher risks of sexual exploitation and abuse.”
In addition, Dr. Kamuragiye noted that millions of children from poorer families rely on schools as a lifeline to meals, support in times of distress, health screenings and therapeutic services. When schools close, their lifeline to these services is taken away.
Dr. Kamuragiye suggested that the reopening of schools should be made in the best interests of children, by assessing the impact on children through a public health, socio-economic and protection lens.
He said UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Food Programme and the World Bank have provided some guidelines to support governments in reopening schools safely.
Some of those recommendations include: implementing physical distancing measures, including prohibiting activities that require large gatherings; staggering the start and close of the school day; staggering school mealtimes; moving classes to temporary spaces or outdoors; and lessons provided in shifts, to reduce class size.
Activate Talks are a global series of talks promoting dialogue among change makers from all walks of life, as UNICEF seeks to rethink and rework how it can deliver results for the most vulnerable and marginalized adolescents and youth.
Last evening’s virtual panel discussion was moderated by Barbadian Pierre Cooke Jr. The panellists were Luana Laurent – Dominica; Terez Lord – Trinidad and Tobago; Odion Hillocks – St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and Jameela Hollingsworth – Barbados.
The overall view of the panellists, who provided educational, financial, health and human resource tips on how young people can operate post COVID-19, was that online learning and working have a place in the future development of youth.
However, Caribbean governments must consider the less vulnerable and the impact it would have on those who do not have access to technology and basic social needs, such as food.