The UN chief Tuesday said the school closures due to the novel coronavirus pandemic have led to the biggest disruption of education in history, affecting more than 1 billion students across the world.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at least 40 million children worldwide have missed out on education “in their critical pre-school year” at a time when as many as 100 countries have not yet announced a date for schools to reopen.

He warned that the world faces “a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities.”

“We are at a defining moment for the world’s children and young people,” Guterres said in a video message and a 26-page policy briefing. “The decisions that governments and partners take now will have lasting impact on hundreds of millions of young people, and on the development prospects of countries for decades to come.”

“Once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control,” he said, “getting students back into schools and learning institutions as safely as possible must be a top priority.”

According to UNICEF monitoring, 106 countries are currently implementing nationwide closures and 55 are implementing local closures, impacting about 98.6% of the world’s student population. Schools in 48 countries are currently open.

In line with the recommendations of UNESCO, countries use distance learning programs and educational applications and platforms that schools and teachers can benefit to reach learners remotely and limit the disruption of education.

More than 18.31 million people globally have contracted COVID-19, while fatalities near 700,000, according to a running tally by the US-based Johns Hopkins University.

Copyright 2022 Anadolu Agency. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.