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Almost 300 million kids missing school because of the coronavirus, UNESCO says

Mask-clad students line up to disinfect their hands with an alcohol solution before entering class at a school in Phnom Penh on January 28, 2020.

Tang Chhin Sothy | AFP | Getty Images

The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted the education of nearly 300 million students across the world and could threaten their future educational rights, according a UNESCO report released Wednesday.

The U.N. organization that monitors global education said the number of children missing school globally is unprecedented. 

“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,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in a statement. 

As of Wednesday, 13 countries — including China, Italy and Japan — have shut schools nationwide in an effort to stop the spread of the flu-like virus. That affects almost 290 million students, UNESCO said. At least 10 countries have some schools closed at a local level, but if those order nationwide closures, UNESCO said an additional 180 million children will be shut out of school. UNESCO’s report did not include India’s order on Thursday to close all schools through the fifth grade in New Delhi until April. 

A bulk of the students come from China, where the outbreak originated. Across the nation, including special administration regions Hong Kong and Macao, more than 233 million students are missing school because of the virus. That’s followed by Japan, which has nearly 16.5 million displaced students, according to UNESCO Institute of Statistics data. 

A handful of schools in the United States have canceled classes over the coronavirus, with many preparing for a possible outbreak. 

Among the closures are Mariner High School and Discovery Elementary School, located in Washington state, which has seen a sharp rise in confirmed cases. New York state and New York City have also closed some schools after health officials confirmed at least 22 cases across the state. Los Angeles officials, when declaring a state of emergency on Wednesday, told parents that school closures were a possibility and to be prepared. 

Health officials don’t currently recommend closing schools if there isn’t a local coronavirus case. Instead, they’re stressing healthy behaviors such as washing hands with hot soapy water, staying home when sick and covering coughs. 

UNESCO will hold an emergency meeting on March 10 over coronavirus-related school closures. The agency said it is supporting the implementation of large-scale distance-learning programs and platforms to reach students remotely.