Meanwhile, Singapore is among a number of countries with more than 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases to keep its schools open. Explaining the government's decision not to close schools, Singapore’s education minister Ong Ye Kung told CNBC last Friday (March 6):
“So far the data has come out ... I think it helped that children are less susceptible and when/if they get it, symptoms are mild.
"If you suspend schools, I think children are cooped up at home. Homes are where infections happen as well. And if you inspect homes, viruses are everywhere. Whereas in our weather, wide open spaces, sunshine, viruses don’t survive very well.”
Official UNESCO figures show that the vast majority of learners affected by school closures are in China (including Hong Kong) (over 233,000,000), followed by Japan (almost 16,500,000), and Iran (more than 14,500,000).
Commenting on the widespread school closures UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said:
"While temporary school closures as a result of health and other crises are not new, unfortunately, the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education.”
Ms. Azoulay said that UNESCO is working with countries to ensure that learning can continue for all. The agency is helping to implement large-scale distance learning programmes and plans to convene an emergency meeting of education ministers next week.
UNESCO highlights some of the harmful consequences of closing schools, which include interrupted learning, social isolation, and higher school dropout rates when students return to school.
UNESCO says that "lack of access to technology or good internet connectivity is an obstacle to continued learning, especially for students from disadvantaged families", and "working parents often leave children alone when schools close and this can lead to risky behaviors, including increased influence of peer pressure and substance abuse". Also, school closures will affect the many children who rely on free or discounted meals provided at schools for food and healthy nutrition.