Nearly 1.6 billion students across the world have been affected by the largest disruption of education system in history caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated education disparities, according to UN Secretary-General's policy brief on "Education during Covid-19 and Beyond" released on Tuesday.
Learning losses due to prolonged school closures threaten to erase progress made in recent decades, not least for girls and young women, according to the brief.
Describing education as "the key to personal development and the future of societies", UN chief António Guterres issued recommendations to get children back in the classroom in a policy brief launched alongside a new global campaign called "Save our Future".
"As the world faces unsustainable levels of inequality, we need education -- the great equalizer -- more than ever," he said in a video message.
"We must take bold steps now, to create inclusive, resilient, quality education systems fit for the future," he said.
Some 23.8 million additional children and youth (from pre-primary to tertiary) could drop out or not have access to school next year due to the pandemic's economic impact alone, the UN document noted.
Education is a fundamental human right and it is the bedrock of just, equal and inclusive societies and a main driver of sustainable development.
To prevent a pre-existing learning crisis from turning into a learning catastrophe, governments and the international community must step up, the policy brief said.
Once national or local outbreaks of the virus are under control, governments must look to reopen schools safely, listening to the voices of key stakeholders and coordinating with relevant actors, including the health community.
The gap in education financing globally could increase by 30 percent because of the crisis, the brief said.
The policy brief said governments need to protect education financing in national budgets, in international development assistance and through greater cooperation on debt.
To cope better with future crises, governments should strengthen the resilience of education systems by placing a strong focus on equity and inclusion, and on reinforcing capacities for risk management.
Failure to do so poses major risks to international peace and stability, it said.
The transformation of education systems has been stimulated and reinforced in many countries during the pandemic: innovative solutions for learning and teaching continuity have flourished.
Responses have also highlighted major divides, beginning with the digital one.
It is time to reimagine education and accelerate positive change, and ensure that education systems are more flexible, equitable, and inclusive, said the policy brief.
250 MILLION CHILDREN OUT OF SCHOOL
To spur global momentum around the education emergency and the need to protect and reimagine education in a post-Covid-19 world, a coalition of global organisations is joining forces to launch the "Save Our Future" campaign.
This campaign will amplify the voices of children and young people and urge governments worldwide to recognise the investment in education as critical to Covid-19 recovery, the policy brief reads.
In mid-July, schools were closed in more than 160 countries, affecting over 1 billion students. At least 40 million children worldwide have missed out on education in their critical pre-school year.
And parents, especially women, have been forced to assume heavy care burdens at home.
Despite the delivery of lessons by radio, television and online, and the best efforts of teachers and parents, many students remain out of reach.
Learners with disabilities, those in minority or disadvantaged communities, displaced and refugee students and those in remote areas are at highest risk of being left behind.
And even for those who can access distance learning, success depends on their living conditions, including the fair distribution of domestic duties.
More than 250 million school-age children were out of school.
Earlier on Monday, a press briefing on this policy brief was held.
Stefania Giannini, the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education and Suzanne Grant Lewis, director of UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) briefed the media in the virtual briefing.