Can’t wait until children are vaccinated to open schools: UNICEF India Rep (Interview)

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Children in India are already losing out on educational opportunities and we cannot wait until they are vaccinated to reopen the schools, says UNICEF India representative Yasumasa Kimura.

In an interview to IANS as UNICEF India unveiled a symbolic ‘pandemic classroom’ on the occasion of the Children’s Day on Sunday, Kimura said that it has been more than 15 months that children have lost the learning opportunity and the future of an entire generation is at risk.

Following are excerpts from the interview:

Q: What is the idea behind behind the empty ‘pandemic classroom’ that you want to convey?

A: We are advocating ‘learning recovery and learning loss’ for children in India on this World Children’s Day on November 20. Children have lost huge opportunities of learning in last 15 months during the pandemic. Total 286 million children have lost the opportunities of learning. So, we want to bring public attention to this learning crisis through empty classes, desks, chairs, and unused bags.

Q: What has UNICEF done for children during the pandemic in India?

A: We have worked very closely with national and state governments during the pandemic. We have worked with the Education Ministry to come up with guidelines and protocol to safe openings of schools for children. UNICEF has worked towards providing assistance to children in online learning in many states. Our mobile learning centres visited the community where students didn’t have mobiles for online education and provided them support. We worked in Bihar, Odisha, and other states to provide community support to those students with mobile learning.

Q: The Central government is set to roll out the vaccination programme for children. Is UNICEF working towards vaccine hesitancy in children?

A: Since the launch of immunisation programme by government in India, we have been supporting the Health Ministry’s advocacy campaign for children vaccines. Whenever the vaccination programme begins for children in India, we are ready to support the Health Ministry in its campaign.

Q: We are still into the pandemic and children in India have not been vaccinated yet but Unicef is advocating reopening the schools. Don’t you think it a contradictory?

A: There are evidences that children are not the cause of the outbreak of infection and they are less like to become the cluster of infection. It has also been proved that they recover quickly if they get infected. We can’t wait until children are vaccinated to open the schools. They are already losing the learning opportunity. With proper Covid appropriate behaviour like social distancing, hand sanitisation, ventilation in classrooms, we can prevent the infection. It is important to bring them (the children) back to the classroom.

Q:. Has the pandemic-brought economic slow down impacted Unicef programmes too?

A: Absolutely, it has impacted UNICEF during the second wave. Many of our staff were infected during the second wave. However, we managed to keep running the programme. In terms of financial impact, we didn’t face any crisis to run the programmee. We received significant contribution and support domestically and overseas to run the programmes.

(Avinash Prabhakar can be reached at avinashp@ians.in)

–IANS

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