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Keeping schools closed in view of covid not justified: World Bank Education Director

Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank's Global Education Director, who has been tracking the impact of COVID-19 on the education sector, says there is no evidence that reopening schools has resulted in an increase in coronavirus cases, and that schools are not a "safe place."

Keeping schools closed in view of covid not justified: World Bank Education Director
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Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank's Global Education Director, who has been tracking the impact of COVID-19 on the education sector, says there is no evidence that reopening schools has resulted in an increase in coronavirus cases, and that schools are not a "safe place."

According to the World Bank's Global Education Director Jaime Saavedra, there is no justification now for keeping schools closed in view of the pandemic and even if there are new waves, closing schools should be the last resort.

"There is no relation between opening schools and spread of coronavirus. There is no evidence linking the two and there is no justification now to keep the schools closed. Even if there are new waves of COVID-19, closing schools should be the last resort," Saavedra told PTI in an interview from Washington.

"It does not make sense to keep restaurants, bars and shopping malls open and keep schools closed. There is no excuse," he added.

According to various simulations by the World Bank, the risks to children's health if schools are opened are low, but the cost of closing them is extremely significant.

"During 2020, we were navigating in a sea of ignorance. We just didn't know what is the best way of combating the pandemic and the immediate reaction of most countries in the world was let's close schools. Time has passed since then and with evidence coming in from late 2020 and 2021, we have had several waves and there are several countries which have opened schools," he said.

"Even if the kids can get infected and with the Omicron it is happening even more but fatalities and serious illness among children are extremely rare. The risks for children are low and costs are extremely high," he added.

Asked about the concerns of children not being vaccinated yet, he said, "There is no country which has put the condition of reopening schools only after children are vaccinated. Because there is no science behind it and it does not make sense from a public policy perspective".

Talking about the impact of school closures due to the pandemic in India, Saavedra said the "impact is more severe than previously thought" and the learning poverty is likely to increase much more than anticipated.

Learning poverty means being unable to read and understand a simple text by the age of 10.

Rationalising the curriculum, reorganising the academic calendar, preparing the teachers for the huge task ahead are among the suggestions that the World Bank has to reduce long-term learning losses caused by the closure of schools during the pandemic.

A 2020 report by the World Bank Education, titled "Beaten or Broken? Informality and COVID-19 in South Asia", had predicted that the prolonged closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic in India may cause a loss of over USD 400 billion in the country's future earnings.

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