UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore on Tuesday said no effort should be spared to keep schools open or prioritize them in reopening plans as they enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and cases continue to soar around the world.
“Despite overwhelming evidence of the impact of school closures on children, and despite increasing evidence that schools are not drivers of the pandemic, too many countries have opted to keep schools closed, some for nearly a year," Fore said in a statement.
The cost of closing schools – which at the peak of pandemic lockdowns affected 90 per cent of students worldwide and left more than a third of schoolchildren with no access to remote education – has been devastating, said the UNICEF ED.
“The number of out-of-school children is set to increase by 24 million, to a level we have not seen in years and have fought so hard to overcome."
Children’s ability to read, write and do basic math has suffered, and the skills they need to thrive in the 21st century economy have diminished, Fore said.
“Their health, development, safety and well-being are at risk. The most vulnerable among them will bear the heaviest brunt," she said.
“Without school meals, children are left hungry and their nutrition is worsening. Without daily interactions with their peers and a reduction in mobility, they are losing physical fitness and showing signs of mental distress. Without the safety net that school often provides, they are more vulnerable to abuse, child marriage and child labour," Fore added.
That is why closing schools must be a measure of last resort, after all other options have been considered, she said.
Assessing the risk of transmission at the local level should be a key determinant in decisions on school operations.
Nationwide school closures must be avoided whenever possible, she said.
"Where there are high levels of community transmission, where health systems are under extreme pressure and where closing schools is deemed inevitable, safeguarding measures must be put in place.
This includes ensuring that children who are at risk of violence in their homes, who are reliant upon school meals and whose parents are essential workers are able to continue their education in their classrooms."
In case of lockdowns, schools must be among the first to reopen once authorities start lifting restrictions, Fore said. "Catch-up classes should be prioritized to ensure that children who have been unable to learn remotely are not left behind."
She said children are faced with another year of school closures, the effects will be felt for generations to come.
Bangladesh Ambassador to Belgium Mahbub Hassan Saleh has said Bangabandhu’s sculptures at important places in Bangladesh would be a great source of inspiration for the younger generation to internalise his vision and ideals in their hearts and minds.
He made the remarks at a virtual panel discussion held recently.
The panel discussion featured a conversation moderated by Ambassador Saleh with Dr Habibul Haque Khondker, Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Zayed University, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Indrani Bagchi, Diplomatic Editor, The Times of India and Dr Chanchal Khan, International Development Consultant and Tagore Exponent.
The Embassy of Bangladesh in Brussels organized the panel discussion titled ‘Bangabandhu’s Vision of an Independent Bangladesh’ to celebrate the Homecoming Day of the Father of Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the year of Bangabandhu’s birth centenary, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday.
Prior to the panel discussion there was a pre-recorded conversation between Ambassador Saleh and Dr David Nalin, Professor Emeritus, Centre for Immunology and Microbial Disease, Albany Medical College, New York, United States, and an awardee of Bangladesh’s ‘Friendship of Liberation War Honour’ in 2013.
Dr Nalin reminisced about his first-hand experience of witnessing Bangabandhu’s arrival at Tejgaon Airport in Dhaka on 10 January 1972 from his captivity in Pakistan during the War of Liberation.
He also recalled the memory of his meeting with Bangabandhu later when he had the opportunity to present to him the works done by the Bangladesh Information Centre he had established in Washington D.C. in 1971 for lobbying with the members of the US Congress for their support towards the Liberation War of Bangladesh.
During the panel discussion, Dr. Habibul Haque Khondker elaborated on Bangabandhu’s pragmatic idea of social justice and equality as an essential pillar of freedom in the newly independent country.
Indrani Bagchi spoke about Bangabandhu’s vision of peace in his Foreign Policy dictum of ‘Friendship to all and malice towards none’.
Dr Chanchal Khan spoke about Bangabandhu’s vision for rebuilding a war-ravaged country through combining agrarian reforms and industrial development, and also through secular and progressive educational and cultural policies.
Ambassador Saleh highlighted the efforts of the present government under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership to bring Bangladesh back on the right track in pursuit of Bangabandhu’s vision and ideals and to continue the impressive developmental journey of building a modern and developed Bangladesh.
He stated that the diplomats of Bangladesh are honoured and fortunate to have the opportunity of proudly presenting Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Iconic Statesman and Greatest Bengali of All Time, to the world.
Also read: Bangabandhu's Homecoming Day observed
The day’s programme began with reading out the messages issued by the President and Prime Minister on Bangabandhu’s Homecoming Day.
The virtual programme was organized through Zoom and was shared live on the Facebook page of the Embassy.
People from Europe and different corners of the world joined the programme.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has put emphasis on increasing cooperation with Bangladesh, particularly in the areas of agriculture, agro-based products, regional tourism, investment promotion, ICT, high tech industry and education.
He discussed the issues when newly-appointed High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Sri Lanka Tareq Md Ariful Islam presented his credentials to him at the President’s House in a formal ceremony.
High Commissioner Tareq shared with the President the tremendous socio-economic developments that Bangladesh has achieved under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
He also discussed issues including enhancing bilateral trade, concluding bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), enhancing shipping connectivity, signing of coastal shipping agreement, investment promotion and cooperation in pharmaceutical sectors.
They discussed ways and means to further deepen the bilateral relations between the two countries.
High Commissioner Tareq conveyed the greetings and personal regards of the President and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to President Rajapaksa.
High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Sri Lanka Tareq Md Ariful Islam presented his credentials Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Photo: Courtesy
He also conveyed to him the invitation of the President and the Prime Minister to visit Bangladesh.
Felicitating the High Commissioner for assuming his responsibility, Rajapaksa reciprocated the greetings to Bangladesh President and Prime Minister and thanked them for the invitation.
High Commissioner Tareq appreciated President Rajapaksa for leading the country to greater socio-economic developments as well as for effectively dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Referring to the excellent bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and the multitude of commonalities, the High Commissioner expressed his commitment to work for further strengthening the ties between the two countries.
He solicited the support of the host government in this regard.
The Sri Lankan President shared his country’s experience in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Dinesh Gunawardene, Secretary to the President Dr PB Jayasundera, and Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof Jayanath Colombage were present at the ceremony, said the High Commission.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under its Human Rights and Justice Programme (HRJP) has launched Low-Value Grants (LVG) to foster small scale innovative actions to address human rights issues during and after COVID-19 situation in Bangladesh, engaging civil society organisations (CSOs) and community radio.
Under this initiative, supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), UNDP in partnership with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) called for innovative ideas, actions, and approaches to solve human rights problems and challenges, leaving no one behind, in different thematic issues.
The Human Rights and Justice Programme, with funding support from SIDA and SDC has been working with the state-based institutions particularly the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to strengthen its capacity to better deliver on its mandate and the law-enforcing agencies (in particular Police) to defend and protect human rights, said UNDP on Monday.
It has been able to engage other stakeholders also such as civil society organisations (CSOs), human rights defenders (HRDs), youths and faith leaders to promote a human rights culture.
The Programme has given special focus on working with most vulnerable and marginalised groups, including women and girls, children and young people, ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities, Dalit and other excluded minorities.
The call encourages an approach to leave no one behind (LNOB) to combat discrimination and inequalities in the time of COVID-19, particularly on the following thematic issues - Rights and inclusion of left-behind people in the decision-making structures and institutional services, rights of the minorities, women and children rights, cultural rights: promotion of peace, tolerance and cultural diversity in the society, ethnic/local language-based rights education and radio programming.
So far, the Programme has provided small grants support to 44 CSOs in 15 districts aiming to enhance their capacity and better engagement in addressing human rights issues. Priority districts for this year are Dhaka, Manikganj, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Khulna, Satkhira, Barishal, Cox’s Bazar, Mymensingh, Moulvibazar and Habiganj.
Rohingya repatriation could not be started because of the lack of cordiality of the Myanmar government, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said Monday.
“Not a single Rohingya could be repatriated in the last three and a half years as Myanmar brought up one issue after the other,” he told reporters in Rangamati after inaugurating Bangabandhu Adventure Festival marking the birth centenary of Bangladesh’s founding father.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya men, women and children fled to Bangladesh from their homeland in Myanmar’s Rakhine state after the military launched a brutal offensive targeting the mainly Muslim ethnic minority.
Also Read: 2020: Another year of agony for Rohingyas
State-sponsored discrimination against the Rohingyas stretches back decades. Myanmar does not recognise them as citizens despite having lived in the country for generations. The country denies them basic rights and many of them are forced to live in cramped camps.
Bangladesh and Myanmar held several rounds of talks for the discussions could not be advanced due to election and Covid-19 outbreak. Foreign Minister Momen said a repatriation talk with Myanmar is scheduled for Jan 19 at the mediation of China.
Replying to a question, the minister said India had repeatedly assured that they would give Bangladesh Covid-19 vaccine whenever they would use them.
“This decision came from the highest level of the Indian government. We want to believe in India. We’ve had talks with them on many occasions and they have assured us (of providing the vaccine),” he said.
Minister Momen said Bangladesh had held talks with other countries and they, too, assured of providing vaccines.
Bangladesh has so far confirmed 523,302 cases with 7,803 fatalities. The country reported its first cases on March 8 last year and the first death on March 18.
The country inked an agreement with the Serum Institute of India Pvt Ltd last month for procuring 30 million doses of Oxford/Astrazeneca Vaccine – five million each month.
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 vaccination in Bangladesh will start in the first week of February, the Director General of the Directorate General Health Services (DGHS) Prof Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam said Monday.
Bangabandhu Adventure Festival
Foreign Minister Momen inaugurated the festival by releasing balloons and pigeons. He had earlier paid floral tributes to Bangabandhu’s sculpture.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board and Bangladesh Adventure Foundation jointly organised the festival.
Presided over by Development Board Chairman and Adventure Foundation President Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura, the programme was attended by parliamentarian Dipankar Talukder, Rangamati Region Commander Brig Gen Md Iftekharul Islam, and Rangamati Deputy Commissioner AKM Mamunur Rashid, among other.
The adventure festival includes mountain scaling, river cruise, kayaking, hiking, trail run, team building, trekking, and tree trail.
The festival will run from Jan 11 to Jan 15. This time, 100 adventurers (half of them from the hill tracts) aged between 18 and 35 years are taking part in the festival.