The lockdown for such a long period of time has already begun to negatively impact our region’s children. A survey by the Colombian Institute of Neurosciences found that in Colombia, 88% of children have signs that indicate that their mental health and behavior have been negatively affected by the lockdown, and 42% show signs related to the development of academic skills . These results are similar in all Latin American and Caribbean countries, in which almost 19 million preschool-aged children are out of the classrooms and confined to their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with this worrisome scenario: How can we make visible the effect that the pandemic has had on the younger children? How can we protect them from the negative impacts and ensure that they can continue learning?
Just a few months ago we warned about the high cost that COVID-19 could have on children in our region. The situation they face is relatively underrecognized because children are the age group with the lowest rates of infection and the least voice in policy discussions, but as we take a closer look, we see several negative consequences for them:
- Many households have fallen into poverty due to the impossibility for parents to work, also causing a situation of food insecurity in the home that affects the well-being and development of children.
- Non-compliance with vaccination schedules and medical check-ups are reported in several countries.
- The closure of preschools has caused an interruption in the learning processes and the development of children’s skills.
- Children have had to face a lack of socialization and personal contact with other children and adults that affects their levels of stress and anxiety.
Recognizing the high impact that the pandemic is having on children, the Early Childhood Development Innovation Fund, an alliance between the Inter-American Development Bank, the FEMSA Foundation, the Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal Foundation and the Open Society Foundations, convened several experts to discuss these impacts and the strategies that some countries have adopted to mitigate them (see the full Webinar at the link below). The event highlighted the importance of maintaining educational continuity for preschool-aged children in order to avoid furthering learning lags and increasing achievement gaps, as well as the necessary planning to reopen educational services, ensuring the physical and emotional well-being of children and their teachers.
Considering that each day that passes with schools closed, the development of millions of children is affected even more, how can we move forward on the discussion for the reopening of preschools?
Certainly, the reopening of preschools and schools cannot be immediate or complete everywhere. In this context, education systems seek to reinvent themselves to offer a solution that prioritizes its central objectives of providing quality education and promoting learning, but that at the same time allows keeping the health and well-being of children and their teachers. In many cases, these solutions combine an offer of virtual services, with face-to-face classrooms that limit physical contact to comply with the required social distancing measures.
To continue offering quality early education, we propose considering the following recommendations that are already being developed by several countries:
- Equipping and properly conditioning preschools for their reopening.
- Keeping the preschools clean and disinfected.
- Making sure all children and staff show up to school and stay healthy during the day
- Restricting the entry of non-essential visitors, volunteers, and families to the preschool.
- Maintaining social distancing by reducing the number of children per teacher in each classroom, spacing out chairs and tables, or staggering arrival and departure times.
- Guaranteeing access to soap and water for frequent hand washing.
- Preparing the preschool staff appropriately.
- Providing tools for children to understand these changes in routines.
- Maintaining constant communication with parents.
- Designing simple pedagogical content (activities and games) and flexible implementation and dissemination protocols appropriate to each context.
Learn about these and other recommendations in detail in our publication The high cost of COVID-19 for children: Strategies to mitigate its impact in Latin America and the Caribbean.
What conditions do you consider necessary for schools in your country to be able to reopen safely? What ideas do you have so that the learning process can continue? Share your opinion in the comments section or on Twitter mentioning @BIDEducacion #EnfoqueEducacion .
 Based on “The high cost of COVID-19 for children: Strategies for mitigating its impact in Latin America and the Caribbean“, authors’ criteria and their interpretation of the criteria established in this IDB note, CDC criteria, and guidelines of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (May 15, 2020) and the ReopenDC Committee on Education and Childcare (May 20, 2020).