Audrey Azoulay

PARIS: The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had caused possibly the biggest educational disruption in history with the closure of schools and universities in many countries, Director General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Audrey Azoulay said Friday. In an exclusive statement to KUNA, Azoulay indicated that closures had added up to problems facing education prior to the spread of the virus with major shifts affecting almost all educational entities worldwide.

If the situation continued, the losses will be immeasurable especially in the case of children who will have their mental health at risk, she indicated. Azoulay urged for keeping schools open and also called for reopening educational institutes at the nearest possible opportunity with necessary health guidelines and precautions put in place.

The Director General pointed out that UNESCO supported online studying and distance learning, but stressed that it should not replace education at schools and universities. Being at school and interacting with students and teachers are very important aspects of the educational process and it is necessary for governments and organizations to find means to protect students' health and also boost their academic interests and wellbeing. When the pandemic reached its peak in the spring of 2020, around 1.6 billion students abstained from going to schools in some 190 countries, an equivalent of 90 percent of students worldwide.

Over a year had passed since COVID-19 spread and above 800 million students are facing disruption in education due to partial closure of schools or decreasing school hours, revealed Azoulay who added the gap in funding education annually might increase to $200 billion especially in poor countries. The pandemic had affected the education of female students and also led to students in lower- and middle-income countries to lose four months' worth of education while their counterparts in high-income countries also lost about six weeks of education, Azoulay said.

The UNESCO Director General also warned that some 450 million students worldwide were not able to benefit from distance education, pointing out that four out of five students in Africa were unable to use this method compared to their counterparts in Western Europe and North America where one out of seven students have this privilege. In regards to impact of COVID-19 on culture, Azoulay said that some 54 percent of World Heritage sites are closed or partially closed and affects employment with workers becoming on the verge of poverty due to the fact that some 13 percent of museums around the world will not reopen due to hard lockdowns.

UNESCO, she stressed, will stand in solidarity with cultural sites' employees in addition to artists to keep art and culture alive. She added that UNESCO encouraged supporting artists in the cultural sector by buying their products and urged cyber platforms to review their tax policies for said products to help culture and art thrive once more. Authorities of course must also play their part in supporting cultural sector employees within the grand plan of recovery from the impact of the coronavirus. - KUNA