Youth perspectives in focus at high-level meeting on schooling during COVID-19 pandemic

This week, WHO / Europe hosted a high-level virtual meeting with ministers of health and education from across the WHO European Region to highlight ways to minimize the impact of the pandemic COVID-19 on schooling, health, well-being and education of young people.

In a statement, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said: “School closures and interventions such as distance education can have a negative effect on outcomes. long-term school children. Children with disabilities are further disadvantaged by school closings and inadequate distance learning measures to meet their needs. We owe it to the next generation, especially those living in vulnerable environments, to do all we can to reduce vulnerabilities and keep their in-person learning alive.

“It is increasingly clear that targeting transmission in our communities will address the risk of transmission in schools. If appropriate and consistent measures are in place, schools do not pose a greater risk of infection to children, teachers and other staff than any other public place. “

Challenges and cooperation

The need for up-to-date evidence to keep schools functioning safely was highlighted, as was the need to further improve the existing framework to support countries on schooling and COVID-19 with sharing of evidence. In addition, participants explained the importance of assessing responses to COVID-19 and their impact on children’s rights.

During the meeting, countries highlighted the methods they have employed to ensure that schools remain open as long as possible, while recognizing the difficulties encountered during the pandemic.

In addition, the meeting heard from partners and collaborators on what they are doing and how they are supporting countries. They also agreed on continued regional collaboration.

Direct hearing of young people

A group of young advisers from the Technical Advisory Group on Schooling During COVID-19 (TAG), which was established earlier this year, has been invited to contribute. Youth perspectives and participation are vital to the topic of schools and COVID-19.

In their presentation, the young advisers highlighted some results of a survey shared with students from across the European Region. Feedback from young people included concerns about the immediate impact on their learning and well-being, as well as whether exams and long-term plans, such as college, could be adversely affected.

Some students explained that they felt pressured to complete their work in a shorter time, while others said that in some cases they did not have the capacity to be properly educated at home; for example, if they have a bad internet connection or live in a vulnerable situation.

The meeting stressed the importance of providing support to children and young people with disabilities or with pre-existing health problems.

Rely on shared experiences

This week’s virtual discussion follows a meeting that took place in August this year, highlighting the need to share evidence and national experiences on schooling during COVID-19. This culminated in the creation of the TAG, which met to discuss the response to COVID-19 and schooling.

Education often has an impact on broader health in society. The school closures have raised concerns that some students are being left behind, with many facing mental health challenges as a result of the pandemic.

Leaving No One Behind is at the heart of the European work program 2020-2025 – “United action for better health”. Mental health and the development of a mental health coalition is one of the 4 priorities that will influence the work of WHO / Europe in the years to come.

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