School closures 'affecting development'

School closures 'affecting development'

A classroom is sprayed with disinfectant at a Bangkok school closed for Covid-19 control. (Bangkok Post file photo)
A classroom is sprayed with disinfectant at a Bangkok school closed for Covid-19 control. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Many first-graders are missing out on their first-ever day at school as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with concerns that delays to their schooling could harm their development and mental health.

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) said many children who are supposed to be entering first grade have missed out on months of in-person instruction due to school closures across Thailand that were prompted by the nation's third and worst Covid-19 wave. As a result of the loss of development opportunity, seven in 10 young Thai children surveyed by Unicef showed signs of poorer mental health, it said.

"The first day of school is a landmark moment in a child's life. Most of us can remember countless minor details -- what clothes we wore, our teacher's name, who we sat next to. But for millions of children, that important day has been indefinitely postponed," said Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore.

"As classes resume in many parts of the world, millions of first graders have been waiting to see the inside of a classroom for over a year. Millions more may not see one at all this school term. For the most vulnerable, their risk of never stepping into a classroom in their lifetime is skyrocketing."

The first grade sets up the building blocks for future learning, she said, adding it is also a period when children learn to be independent, adapt to new routines, and develop relationships with others. In-person learning also enables teachers to identify developmental delays, mental health issues, and abuse that could harm a child's well-being.

The associated consequences of school closures -- loss of learning opportunity, mental distress, missed vaccinations, and heightened risk of dropping out, -- will be felt by many children, especially the youngest learners in critical development stages, Unicef's survey said. Last year, schools globally were closed for an average of 79 days. However, for some 168 million students, after the pandemic began, schools were shut for almost the entire year.

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