United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday said that the coronavirus pandemic had led to the largest-ever disruption in education in the world and affected over 1 billion (100 crore) students across more than 160 countries. He added that the top-priority of governments must be to safely get children back to school.

Guterres said that 40 million (4 crore) children across the world had missed out on education in their crucial pre-school year due to the health crisis as schools remained shut.

The UN chief added that the coronavirus had exacerbated the pre-existing learning crisis. More than 250 million [25 crore] school-age children were out of school,” Guterres said, while launching the Policy Brief on Education. “And only a quarter of secondary school children in developing countries were leaving school with basic skills.”

Elaborating on the UN’s policy brief, Guterres said that governments across the world need to take action in four key areas – reopening schools, prioritising education in financing decisions, targeting the most vulnerable groups and investment in digital literacy and infrastructure.

“Once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control, getting students back into schools and learning institutions as safely as possible must be a top priority,” Guterres said. “It will be essential to balance health risks against risks to children’s education and protection, and to factor in the impact on women’s labour force participation.”

Guterres said that the world is at a defining moment for children and young people. “Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities,” he said.The decisions that governments and partners take now will have lasting impact on hundreds of millions of young people, and on the development prospects of countries for decades to come.”

The coronavirus has infected more than 1.81 crore people across the world and claimed over 6.93 lakh lives, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

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