Covid-19 aggravated ‘learning crisis’ worldwide: Anurita Bains

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Expressing concern over the various issues that children are facing globally in the wake of Covid-19, Anurita Bains, a senior official of the UNICEF, has said that the pandemic has worsened the situation for the children and addressing these issues are extremely important.

In an interaction with UNI, Bains, who is the Associate Director, HIV/AIDS for UNICEF, while highlighting that Covid-19 aggravated the “learning crisis” worldwide, said, “During the peak of the pandemic, school closures impacted 1.6 billion children across 188 countries, with a majority residing in low- and middle-income countries. Learning losses were significant. Lack of internet access at home affected approximately 1.3 billion school-age children, especially those in rural areas.”

“Early childhood education was disrupted for 167 million children in 196 countries, potentially impacting their cognitive and socio-emotional development. Additionally, 370 million children missed out on school meals, which served as both nutrition and an incentive for attendance. Pre-primary students faced inequities in remote learning, with 120 million lacking access to digital and broadcast options,” she said.

Citing that the learning crisis caused by Covid-19 has created significant challenges in terms of learning losses, limited access to online education, disruptions in early childhood education, and inequalities in remote learning opportunities, Bains said, “Addressing these issues is crucial to ensure that children and adolescents can recover from the impacts of the pandemic and regain educational progress.”

“School closures had a compounding effect on nutrition and food scarcity for children across the world. For many children, the meals they received at school were their only source of food. This crisis affected India and countries worldwide,” she added.

On being asked how can mental health-related issues can be addressed, Bains, said, “Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of addressing mental health, especially among young people. The pandemic, along with isolation and disrupted schooling, has made adolescence a challenging and confusing time. It provided an opportunity for us to understand the mental health impact and take action to support adolescents and young people through innovative programming and digital spaces.”

Initiatives like hotlines, apps, and social media platforms can provide information, counselling, and links to available services, she said.

“UNICEF aims to integrate mental health response into existing programs, ensuring healthcare workers and teachers are equipped to recognise and support individuals with depression and mental health issues. We are also exploring partnerships with global donors to expand mental health programs,” Bains said.

Referring to the recent ‘Health of Youth – Wealth of Nation’, a G20 co-branded event organised by the Centre in the national capital, Bains, who was one among the attendees, said, “This event was unique because it included the active participation of adolescents and young individuals, who expressed themselves and highlighted their concerns and problems.”

“It also saw the partnership of government, UN partners, and NGOs coming together to listen to their concerns and engage in discussions about necessary actions. It demonstrated a desire for an inclusive, ambitious, and action-oriented G20, focusing on maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health,” she said.

Bains further said, “The meeting provided an opportunity for young people to raise their concerns and issues. It stressed on the importance of supporting the health, education, and well-being of children, adolescents, and women for a nation’s growth. Addressing their health needs can help millions of adolescent girls complete secondary school, benefiting their well-being and the nation’s economic progress.”

“The Health policymakers can address the issues by prioritising the needs of children and adolescents, focusing on health, education, and well-being, and collaborating with organisations like UNICEF,” she added.

Bains also mentioned about Tuqa Albakri, a member of UNICEF’s Young People Advisory Group from Iraq, who was present in the meeting and who highlighted that young people are the changemakers of the world as they are the generation of science and technology people, of activism, creativity and energy, at the event.

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