‘Generational disaster’: UN urges focus on education as pandemic affects over 1 billion students globally


TORONTO – UN warns students face ‘generational disaster’ thanks to impact of COVID-19 pandemic on global education, creating crisis, experts say disproportionately affects students from low income and racialized backgrounds in Canada. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said the novel coronavirus is the biggest education disruptor ever, noting that getting students back to school in the safest way possible must be a top priority once local transmission of the virus is under control.

“We were already facing a learning crisis before the pandemic,” Guterres said Tuesday, in a video message launching the “Save our Future” campaign, calling for a focus on innovative teaching methods to reopen schools and target the hardest to reach students.

“We now face a generational catastrophe that could squander untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities.”

According to the UN, schools were closed in more than 160 countries as of mid-July, affecting more than one billion students, while 40 million children worldwide have missed education during their critical preschool year.

Guterres warned that students with disabilities, those from minority or disadvantaged communities and children in remote areas are most at risk of being left behind – a message that Canadian experts echo.

“Unfortunately, in education, the socio-economy is still the number one predictor of academic success,” Annie Kidder, Executive Director of People for Education, told CTVNews.ca Tuesday.

“For children whose families find it difficult to put food on the table; whose parents had to continue working sometimes in low-paying jobs; for racialized students who still face discrimination in Canada; these students are more likely to struggle. ”

Kidder notes that this so-called “generational disaster” can only apply to students who are already struggling in school or who lack the resources to be successful outside of the classroom.

This is particularly worrying for students in provinces where home and virtual learning is part of the proposals to reopen schools, notably in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.

“When schools close and we switch to online learning, these students often don’t have all the support around them to help them succeed,” Kidder noted, adding that not only do these students have often not having access to the technology they need, but also the supervision and motivation of adults who facilitate learning.

Worse yet, experts warn that these gaps in education will lead to further disparities later in life.

“The concern is, for the students who are already at a disadvantage, they’re going to lose,” Kidder said.

“They’re going to lose up to a year of their education, and that will impact their lives in terms of income and ability to thrive in the world – and it’s a crisis.”


While Kidder recognizes that it is imperative for children to return to school, she notes that there is no rush to do so safely and effectively.

“We all assume that school has to start at the beginning of September because that’s when it always started,” she said. “But it would probably be more efficient to have some kind of slow ramp into the school. ”

Kidder notes that while every province has released a back-to-school plan, many lack specific details on how back-to-class will work – especially given the unpredictability of the number of cases in the fall. – and funding to implement new safety directives.

“Almost all the regimes in the country are short of money. It really makes me wonder why the provinces didn’t go to the federal government and say, ‘We have a crisis’, ”she said.

“If the provinces had asked the federal government for this request, I think they would have had more money to make sure there were enough teachers, support staff and space to have classes.

Kidder adds that going back to school should not be treated as usual, noting that children of all ages have been mentally affected by the pandemic and the resulting closures.

“Our children have been through this crisis, so it takes a long time to deal with it,” she said, adding that schools should take the “smooth return” approach to learning and do room for conversations. about how they feel.


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